This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of dan-ruth-tanner.com
To begin, I wish to state that I am writing about the permanent, salaried, US-based Peace Corps bureaucracy, not the dedicated volunteers who have served and are serving in Dominica and other countries. In fact, we are friends with a former Peace Corps volunteer who is godmother to a young lady we know, and together weâ€™ve been trying to get her a visa so that she can spend half of her summer school vacation with us and half with she and her husband as an educational and culturally enriching experience for this excellent student.
Here is the background: I am 67 and retired. I have degrees in electronic engineering and physics and secondary education, and am accredited to teach physics, science, and mathematics at grades 7 through 12 in both Massachusetts and New Jersey. I also have about 80 percent of the credits toward a masterâ€™s degree in business administration and over 45 years of experience in the computer industry. Thinking that I would like to contribute to science and mathematics education as a volunteer in Dominica, where my wife and I have built a house (in Calibishie) and plan to retire to and live in permanently, I attempted to volunteer in the Peace Corps for that purpose.
I made it clear that I do not want the stipend that the Peace Corps pays its volunteers and also would not need or accept any Peace Corps-paid transportation. I explained that we have a house to live in and planned to go there anyhow, and that we have been going to Dominica frequently ever since 1987, and have had Dominicans as guests in our home here too. I stated that my only reason for wanting Peace Corps association was my belief that such affiliation might make appeals to groups in the US to send books and/or classroom science apparatus to Dominica more effective than if I tried to be a lone non-affiliated volunteer.
My initial encounter with the local Peace Corps bureaucrat in Boston was a big disappointment. I had researched the Peace Corpsâ€™ Web site and discovered that Dominica is not listed on it, but is rather lumped in the catch-all category of â€œEastern Caribbeanâ€. The Web site says that family and village ties throughout the area are â€œweakâ€; while I know that Dominica has strong, loving families and vibrant, interdependent villages. I called the Boston office and found the bureaucrat had never head of Dominica and insisted that the Peace Corps had never sent any volunteers there â€“ despite the fact that I actually named some for her.
Then, after she did some checking, she advised me that the Peace Corps had only one mission in Dominica, and that was AIDS education. I told her that I knew that children in government schools knew about the danger of AIDS and how to avoid it. She then told me that the Peace Corps could not send anyone to work in an area that the government had not asked for (but she could not or would not say what Dominica was requesting) and that in any event volunteer science or mathematics education would be unacceptable because â€œDominica lacks the necessary infrastructureâ€. (In other words, no sense trying to help, the country is too bad off anyhow!)
Finally, she fell back on the real bureaucratic excuse the Peace Corps would ultimately use to reject my volunteer application â€“ I was requesting to serve in a particular place and the Peace Corps solely determines where its volunteers serve. (But a past volunteer who had served in Dominica and who had that as her initial goal got around the issue by contacting the head Peace Corps person then in Dominica, whom she knew, and getting him to request a volunteer who had a rÃ©sumÃ© precisely matching hers in her application. Unfortunately, I donâ€™t know who presently heads the local Peace Corps office in Dominica, so I could not adopt that strategy.) I should also point out that although the Peace Corps asserts that it is overwhelmed with volunteers, this and other bureaucrats nonetheless make frequent government-paid junket â€œrecruitingâ€ trips.
I have been rejected because I have stated where it is that I would like to serve. I have been told that â€œI should live in a grass hut with a dirt floor and no electricity or running water like the nativesâ€ and would not be able to use my house. To that I replied that most Dominicans live in houses and have running water and electricity, and that in my house I could use the Internet, a telescope, a microscope, books, and more of my time to help students; but that had no effect.
I appealed my rejection to the Washington DC Peace Corps office and have received a denial of appeal letter from the DC-based bureaucrat on the same basis. I also contacted my local representative in Congressâ€™ office and the matter was assigned to one Ms. Gladys Rodriquez-Parker who was supposed to follow-up on my behalf. When the final rejection letter arrived today I called for Ms. Parker at my Congressmanâ€™s local office and was told that she was going to be out until after the end of May, and that she know of the rejection but had decided to â€œlet the Peace Corps tell meâ€.
This is the way the US government bureaucracy works. (The enemy of freedom is not tyranny; it is simply an effective bureaucracy.) I had hoped, naÃ¯vely, that Ms. Parker would contest the matter on the basis of the senselessness of the Peace Corpsâ€™ bureaucratic pretext, but Iâ€™d failed to recon with the fact that our Congress is also a bureaucracy, and if thereâ€™s anything that bureaucrats do exceedingly well it is to close ranks.
If you support me in this, please send an e-mail to [email protected] Thank you.
This has been an issue for many would be Peace Corp volunteers. I know on one man who was kicked out for getting Dell to donate over 40 computers to a school he was working at. He apparently committed the crime of going outside of the scope of his assignment (teaching English). The Peace Corps then returned the computers. However, the Peace Corp is a government run organization has has VERY specific guidelines to keep the integrity of the organization. Part of that is having the people working in the organization living as the lowest common denominator of the host country lives.
As for your personal experience this is no different then any other organization. You get projects, you look at your tools and staff, then assign. It really is too much effort (and hidden cost) in doing what you are trying to do. Small groups can do that, not large. The economies of scale that the Peace Corps tries to take advantage of just plain do not allow it.
You have a good heart and a good idea, but you were using the wrong organization. Are there any groups in Dominica who could directly use your help? Maybe smaller groups where a little support goes further then what it would with a larger organization?
Joel, thank you for your strong statement of support and your understanding. Perhaps if a group in Dominica that could benefit from help that I could give would contact me, something good could result. Some people have suggested that I work with a religous group, but I can not do that in good conscience unless that group is prepared to accept the fact that I am a non-believer.
Have you written an e-mail to my congressman’s office as my blog article suggested?
first hats off to your for your volunteerism and unselfish interest in Dominica’s welfare. This is simply outstanding and appreciated. As a Dominican living in the US I am not surprised by the ignorance, arrogance and sticklers for rule – personalities that we have in many publicly funded organizations. The people there at peace Corps could not even get their facts right. The fact is that peace corps began in Dominica since 1967 and there have been perhaps hundreds of volunteers to date. And fast foward to recent times, up to Sep 12 2007, there were 13 new volunteers sworn in…nothing to suggest that their mission was strictly aids program related. The new on island coordinator is Ron Green. He also happens to be a former minister of government and seasoned community activitist. It would serve you well to contact him (there is also an online Dominica telephone directory)…Also check out the following websites:
On a personal note in the 80s, I had direct benefit in education nby the Peace Corps. I remember being taught by a very able Peace Corps Maths teacher at high school/6th form. It may just depend on needs expressed by the govt. You can conduct a search on newsdominica.com for other articles over the years on the peace corps.
Not yet. I will do so right now.
Joel, thank you. And Pete, as soon as I saw your reply I looked up Ron Green in the phone book (we have one here, but thanks for the tip about it being on-line too) and called the two numbers listed, one in Canefield and the other in Laplaine. I reached an answering machine at both numbers and left a message at each of them. I don’t know if I’ll be called back internationally, so I also left my US e-dress, which is [email protected]. (E-mail will reach us at that e-dress until we leave the US; my permanent e-dress is now and will remain [email protected] and our Web site is http://www.dan-ruth-tanner.com.)
I hope that Ron will contact me. But if anyone reading this is in Dominica and can help me get in touch with Ron, perhaps by relaying a message or by letting me know Ron’s e-dress (if he has e-mail access, that is) I’d be most grateful.
I also looked up the former Dominica Peace Corps volunteer site and posted a message on it, subject to the moderator’s approval. The message was the original posting on this blog.
Well done Dan for sticking with it!
Joel offered some positives.
It may have been a good idea to align what you want to do with the “objecties” of other agencies with the same vision. The Peace Corps like any agencie has a right to accept or reject people and offers, that’s common, see what happen after the Cyclone in Burma
Often, how one approaches an issue becomes the stumbling block.
It is unfortunate that the personnel in the Boston office did not know about that part of the “Americas”. I have met and worked with many Peace Corps who know almost every thing about DA. Actually while completing a Masters Certificate in International Studies I interned with the Peace Corp in Washington DC.
Actually, I believe taht with a litte more preparation on the “good samaritan’s part” and some strategic language in the “proposal” ( I hope there was one) ther could have been a great collaboration and this internet report would have been different.
All that said, I hope you are not discouraged, but will use your resources to add value to the social and economic development of the Calibishe area. With your teaching skills it would be nice if you could use computers and youth: (An Idea, humbly); Begin documenting local history (village) and customes…interview the elderly from all walks of life: On issues of culture, health, etc. Store on DVD.; Let youth record footage of scenic areas that may be useful for production of movies/films, build a library. Put a catalogue online and be a resource in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture. My friend Raymond L. would like that I am sure.
When you are ready to begin let me know.
You need not give up now.
Anestine Theophile-LaFond, Ph.D.
Thank you for your suggestions, Anestine. I will, of course, try to volunteer as an educator when and where I can. But as to the Peace Corps, the US-based bureaucracy has made it perfectly clear that they will in no circumstances allow a volunteer to choose his country of service. It is for that reason alone that they will not even consider my application; they have told me so.
That is stupid in their part. They should not, as the saying goes “look a gift horse in the mouth”.
I don’t know if anyone reads this but I just happened upon this little post randomly browsing for peace corps info and I feel like I see lots of things in this sort of line. You’re obviously a very smart and talented guy but, you applied to an organization in which you didn’t meet its needs and it didn’t meet your needs.
As far as the specific country request goes its pretty much posted all over the peace corps site as well as any other information the put out about the application process that they aren’t a travel agency and can’t/won’t guarantee a country. It’s not even something that’s ever mentioned as an option. I feel like you basically applied to a job that explicitly said “you WILL be expected to travel all over the world” and when you applied you told them “well, I only want to go to X because look, I was planning on going there anyway” and then call them names when they don’t hire you.
The same goes for the job placement. If we assume the girl you talked to wasn’t confused/lying then they only place aids volunteers. One of the peace corps stated gigs is that they only do what the host country invites them to do. You say that its disrespectful to not teach math, but is it any more respectful to say “ok, well you wanted us to teach aids education but you know, you guys really need Math more so we will just do that instead”.
You even went so far as to basically imply that you don’t really care much about the “peace corps” you just felt like it would be nice to use the name.
I sort of would like to know how this is any different than applying to any other job and not getting hired because you didn’t have the skills they were looking for and were not willing to go where they need you? Besides the fact you were able to actually appeal the process and get an exact reason why your skills and requirements didn’t meet the organization needs.
I agree with K on this one. You seem to have a sense of entitlement that is unprecedented.
It is the Peace Corps that said “Dominicans don’t have strong family ties”. It said that on the Peace Corps web site. It was a Peace Corps bureaucrat who said to me “You have to live in a grass hut or whatever they live in In Dominica”. I rest my case.
Wow, Who here has the most American arrogance?
Dan I think you are looking for a Carnival cruise ship.
Do Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines get to say, “Nah No Afghanistan for me, I’d rather go hang out in Bangkok cause that’s where I will end up anyway.”
To commit your time and effort as Peace Corps Volunteer is a little like defending your country except you are sharing ideologies of peace. It requires that you forgo your modern luxuries and offer your services to the globe in a community that most needs your services. Not to a place where you continue to neo-colonize your belief systems and satisfy your pre-planned retirement ideals.
Most Peace Corps Volunteers are extremely open minded, socially conscious, highly flexible people of all ages, races, economic class and educational backgrounds.
No need for preferential treatment in your case. Maybe you should try another volunteer organization that suits your needs.
As interesting as your story is, it seems you just wanted to be under the Peace Corps name without having to comply with any Peace Corps rules. You can’t just bypass the recruitment process, specifically select a country and guarantee that’s what you’ll get. What upsets me most is you just wanted the Peace Corps name without being an official volunteer.
There is no guarantee with Peace Corps where you’ll go and if you met somebody who did it once then that is a rare case indeed. Additionally, all it would have taken was a google search to find the phone number to the PC office in Roseau. While what you say is true that PC does more than AIDS awareness, volunteers do not focus on IT on the island.
There is nothing stopping you from going to Dominica and volunteering on your own. If you link up with organisations when you get there, for example schools, gov’t departments, etc, you would have enough of a name to back you when seeking funding. Peace Corps isn’t just an organisation to help you get what you want, it is a government branch so you need to expect rules. Peace Corps does much more than just send you there, they monitor the health, safety, projects and well-being of volunteers, so for you to just want to be let loose after receiving their initial backing is not how the department works. You have made yourself out to be a victim when in reality you did not follow the proper process or have the right expectations to become a volunteer. In fact, most people who apply to Peace Corps are rejected.
I was lucky enough to have been a PC volunteer in Dominica and unfortunately I think many volunteers wouldn’t feel sympathy for somebody who felt entitled to a role we held so dear.
I do live there. I have volunteered and still do and also have donated and still do.
I only reported what the PC bureaucracy said & did. We now have a local PC volunteer worker and he is doing good things (and we help).