One of the world’s great private collections of West African art was hidden until recently in the Durham attic of two returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Reggie and Celeste Hodges. Now they’re donating to North Carolina museums many of their hundreds of masks, statues and other precious objects. It’s a remarkable story, which I tell in this article just published by WorldView, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association.
Are too many of today’s Peace Corps volunteers spending their time texting friends back home and downloading American television programs instead of interacting with people in their villages? Do their parents hover from afar, like the “helicopter parents” of U.S. university students?
Those provocative questions were raised by a reader of my recent post, on how the Peace Corps experience has changed over the years. Rob Carr was among several returned volunteers who commented on the post after it appeared on a Facebook site for that community. Rob served in Liberia and now lives in Tanzania, where he works with a large development agency. With his permission, I am sharing a slightly edited version of his comments here, hoping they may spark a lively conversation.
Personally, I treasured being off the grid in Nepal and think it helped me integrate with my community. Yet I now enjoy and benefit from being online — not only to stay connected but also to help me do my job and to pursue the Peace Corps “third goal” of helping Americans learn about other countries. Since Rob is referring mainly to younger volunteers, I also must note that those serving with me in Moldova are generally smart, engaged and committed to their service.
What do you think? Please share your comments!
I was a PCV in Liberia over three decades ago. During the past 15 years, I have worked in countries where PCVs are posted and have gotten to know them and the staff … Many parents of PCVs these days hover too much. I know staff at PC that get calls from parents if they do not get FaceTime or chat for a few days. A week is a 3-alarm panic.
Being a bit disconnected is rather difficult and unpopular these days, and it’s no different in PC life. I think this has created some space for PCVs to interact less with their hosts and more with people back home in some cases.
In Liberia, would I have sat under a palm tree with my local buddies drinking palm wine and chewing on kola nuts for hours if I had Facebook and chat going with my friends back home, or if I was streaming movies?
It is not always an easy debate between old RPCVs and recent ones. It always comes down to “we had it TOUGH because …” Social media and the need to be connected is a sword with two blades. One keeps us more in touch with family and global events. The other may keep us from socializing with our hosts and performing the MAIN goal of PC service. That is to interact with people in host countries so THEY get to know more about average Americans and WE get to know more about normal people in a far-off land and bring that back home.
When THAT interaction is achieved (forget about PC small projects that may or may not have worked), then the real purpose of PC service has been achieved. I think this is still going strong, but social media has added the risk that if a PCV is not outgoing or is too reclusive, he or she could spend two years on Facebook and never make an impact on this goal. I am not sure if PC is taking this into account in their selection of PCVs or how they orient and support them in their sites.
On the other hand, there is a positive spinoff from our new connectedness. Once PC service is over, it is possible for RPCVs to keep in touch with some of their counterparts and buddies back in their site as lifelong Facebook friends. I have discovered this joy even three decades later. This kind of takes the goals of PC to a new level too.
So it is a double bladed sword – to be handled with care.
Rob, thanks again for letting me share your thoughts on Not Exactly Retired. Readers, what do you think?