The toughest job you'll ever blog.
January 23, 2008 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Since its inception in 1961, over 190,000 volunteers have served overseas with the US Peace Corps. In 2007, the Peace Corps had over 8,000 volunteers serving in 74 countries (2007 annual report (PDF)). Some volunteers have taken to blogging their activities and experiences. Peace Corps Journals maintains a directory of most of them, organized by region and nation. Every nation's page has Wikipedia, CIA Factbook, PC proper, PC staff listings and PC Wiki links; link(s) to site(s) pertaining to RPCVs that served in that nation (if any); and some even link to the nation's informative Peace Corps-published Welcome Book (PDF). Below those elements are the links to the various blogs. While you're perusing the journals, also check out flickr's Peace Corps photo pool
posted by cog_nate (18 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Does the CIA control the blogs too? I kid. Sort of.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:29 PM on January 23, 2008

ahh! In a serious version of allen's joke, I'm going to throw my own little askme into this thread (if I may). YEARS ago, I heard *something* about those rumors and accusations and threw all of my might and power into finding out more about it..... but all I found were mentions and jokes and rumors. Does anyone know of any sites about the purported Spying Scheme? Whether legitimate or batshitinsane?
posted by moxiedoll at 6:53 PM on January 23, 2008

They don't want screw em.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2008

'US Peace Corps?'

What an odd grouping of words.
posted by pompomtom at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2008

What a neat post, cog_nate! I just saw a PBS special about Sargent Shriver and found both him and the Peace Corps to be pretty fascinating. Also, a favorite patron of mine is headed off to her Peace Corps post in South Africa this coming Sunday, so I find this is very timely.
posted by LiliaNic at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2008

Googling "Peace Corps CIA" will get you the range of sites on the issue, and matches perfectly with the range of stories I heard when I was a volunteer. Basically, it is illegal (except maybe in certain situations); but at the same time it is hard for me to imagine that those boundaries have always been maintained in every situation (and rumors flew of CIA involvement a couple of decades back). The truth is that most PCV's aren't in the places where the CIA wants to be -- the PCV is in a rural schoolroom or an urban clinic, while the CIA wants to know what is going on in the president's bedroom or the opposition party's strategy session.

But there are doubtless examples of PCVs getting access to a place or people that the CIA is interested in, and their cultural and linguistic skills would in theory be of use to the agency... but maybe only in theory, as the CIA and other US intelligence agencies are purportedly still being extraordinarily slow at hiring people who speak languages like Farsi and Arabic. Real, on-the-ground knowledge just may not be a real priority at those agencies, which explains why Osama Bin Laden is running around somewhere and we all get to take our shoes off at the airport instead.
posted by Forktine at 7:30 PM on January 23, 2008

What's there to live for? Who needs the peace corps?
Think I'll just drop out. I'll go to Frisco, buy a wig & sleep on Owsley's floor.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 7:30 PM on January 23, 2008

I went to the Dominican Republic to help a rural electrification project about a decade ago. I met a lot of cool twentysomethings from the peace corps who were doing good things -- and not getting 1/10 of the resources that they really need to do what they're there to do.
posted by devonianfarm at 7:40 PM on January 23, 2008

I've always wanted to join the Peace Corps for as long as I can remember, but I don't have any degrees so I doubt they'd be interested in me. On a flight to South Africa (which was about 20 hours) I sat next to someone who had been in the Peace Corps for about 30 years. He was absolutely fascinating to talk to and I usually hate talking to people on airplanes. I enjoyed his company the entire flight.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:48 PM on January 23, 2008

I assume most people here at MeFi know that the Peace Corps was the vision and realization of JFK. It is sad to think that there are so many who think he didn't do much as president in the short time he had. We could use such vision and inspiration these days, but we'll most likely not get it anytime soon.

"We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are mortal."
-- John F. Kennedy (at American University, June 1963)
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 8:40 PM on January 23, 2008

moxiedoll, I know on the PC application, you are supposed to be disqualified for having any professional tie to the CIA (including an internship). I think they are trying very hard to keep those two branches separate.

On another note, thanks for this post. I'm still trying to get medical clearance, so my application is only partially completed as of yet. I'll be reading over these blogs from time to time, I think.
posted by piratebowling at 8:43 PM on January 23, 2008

I know someone that was in the Air Force a few years ago that said that while dismantling a foreign facility that hadn't been publically acknowledged, the soldiers were given PC t-shirts and told to claim to be PCVs if the local media showed up. The concerns about a connection between the PC and the intel business date back to the beginning of the organization, and after looking into it a little, my guess is that there is indeed a hard wall between the two from the PC's prospective (in that they've never knowingly cooperated with the intelligence services), but the organization's brand has probably been unknowingly appropriated all the same.
posted by gsteff at 9:30 PM on January 23, 2008

I should clarify that regardless, I think at least 99.99% of claims that the PC is a CIA front are boilerplate paranoia. Other interesting PC links:
  • One of the more interesting obscure proposals on Obama's website appears to be working with other countries to let PCVs work alongside their volunteers.
  • Some random foreign policy wonk and Jimmy Carter want to see the the PC become much more technologically sophisticated, helping to bring tech skills and infrastructure to places that need it.
posted by gsteff at 9:47 PM on January 23, 2008

"CIA factbook" has always seemed perilously close to an oxymoron to me.
posted by telstar at 9:55 PM on January 23, 2008

the blogs are great stuff. i've been considering the Peace Corps for several years now... still working on my undergrad. thanks for the links.
posted by bilgepump at 10:14 PM on January 23, 2008

At least on paper, PC keeps themselves VERY separate from any intelligence, or other government, division. The theory behind this is that host countries won't be able to trust the volunteers if there's even a whiff of possible intelligence interest going on. Prospective volunteers are questioned closely with regards to any ties to intelligence (even family members) during the application process, and there's a whole section in the rulebook about interaction and relationships with members of the intelligence services.

They try very hard to maintain the best possible impression in all the countries they function in, to the point of stating that the impression of any improper activity is grounds for "administrative separation" (read: firing). Even if you've done nothing wrong, if the community in your host country somehow gets the idea that you're a CIA agent/drug dealer/media propagandist/whatever--basically, that you're doing something other than working solely for the benefit of that community--that (true or false) impression can be damaging to the program's reputation, and now you're a liability. (If it's pretty clear you're innocent, they do often offer to place you in another country.)

In the past few years they've begun monitoring web presences pretty closely as well--if you have a myspace/facebook/blogspot/personal page, etc., you have to give them the address so that the content can be vetted periodically--as comments people have made in public forums have gotten them in hot water on occasion. These are the sorts of things that remind you PCV's are still very much government employees.

All that being said, I have zero knowledge about whether anything intelligence-related might be going on off-the-books, and wouldn't even want to speculate.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:38 AM on January 24, 2008

I know a ton of PCVs--I live in DC, and, from what I understand, PCVs get preferential hiring for government jobs. I've worked with them, hung out with them at lunch, talked about personal issues and politics, have gotten drunk with them, and even dated one. They're generally a talkative, outgoing bunch of folks, and pretty much uniformly liberal, many tending towards the hippie end of the political spectrum.

Not one has ever said anything about anything intelligence related. Sure, maybe they're more secretive than I know, but I seriously doubt it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:46 AM on January 24, 2008

The Light Fantastic: "They don't want screw em."

Same here. I gave a bad interview, and they decided that I wasn't for them. Later on, hearing about some of the wackos who made it out there, I decided that I shouldn't feel to hurt about their filtering process. I'm sure there are some people out there in the Peace Corps doing great things, but their VSO counterparts sometimes say, "All the Peace Corps volunteers are just there to drink cheap beer in a tropical locale."

Apologies to all the Peace Corp folk who are actually working their asses off. Bitter? Me?
posted by Deathalicious at 11:14 AM on January 24, 2008

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