Cover Image
close this bookAbove and Beyond - Secondary Activities for Peace Corps Volunteers (Peace Corps, 1995, 116 p.)
close this folderPart three - Guidelines for success
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentStarting slowly
View the documentLetting the community take the initiative
View the documentRelying on local resources
View the documentEnjoying the activity
View the documentPaying attention to the nuts and bolts
View the documentKeeping is simple and flexible
View the documentFollowing up, documenting and sharing your experience

Letting the community take the initiative

Whether your community is a village of families related to each other or street children living in the same slum neighborhood, the community should tee involved from the beginning.

This "hanging heads" as it was called in the fishing lures activity in Sierra Leone - sharing ideas - may produce a different activity from what you originally had in mind. It will reflect, in all likelihood, a give-and-take between your culture and theirs. But it will be a community activity, enhancing the chances that it will continue once you have completed your Peace Corps service.

The International Women's Conference organized by PCV Nancy Picard in Hungary was successful because the women involved took the initiative to organize themselves into various committees and kept to their weekly meeting schedule. It was at these meetings that important issues were decided and planning began on how to get support for the international women's conference.

In many instances, the secondary activity may stem from an action van idea of someone else in the community.

PCV Frank Giarrizzo began thinking about promoting village enterprises when his houseman asked him to retain his salary so that he could start a chicken farm. The impetus for the egg farm in Papua New Guinea came from a villager - Angelina Mal - whom Kathy Marcove had gotten to know from working as a health educator in the village and whose leadership potential she recognized and encouraged. In the urban setting of Santa Domingo, Casey Vanderbeek's hydroponic gardening was tried first by his counterparts and professional agronomists. Vanderbeek added the element of making it an activity for "at-risk" youth.

You will need to be sensitive to the local culture, including its political structure ant make it work to the benefit of your activity. That can happen only if the community is involved from the beginning.

The enterprise zone PCV Frank Giarrizzo helped to organize in Malawi would not have moved forward if Giarrizzo had not been aware of how the political system functioned and taken the time to enlist the necessary support at every level. Moving from a single chicken farm - the goal of Giarrizzo's houseman when he asked Giarrizzo to retain most of his salary - to several farms and businesses involving entire villages meant that the two had to secure the agreement of clan elders and village headmen before they could proceed. In this case, planning for the zone involved a number of local people who joined Giarrizzo in obtaining approval and support from the local and regional political leadership as well as from staff of the Ministries of Agriculture and Community Service.

In Yap, PCV Susan Willett learned both the importance of not jumping ahead of the community and creating some distance between herself and the activity. Willett came to understand that people in her community placed a great deal of importance on discussing ideas and mulling them over for a long time before coming to a decision. She learned to wait for them to take action.

"A Volunteer must not unwittingly become an indispensable part of the operation. "

This was Casey Vanderbeek's conclusion in analyzing his experience with the hydroponic gardening project. The job of Volunteers is to transfer the skills they have to the communities they serve. Initially, they may be doing much of the work, especially if they are trying to teach new skills and are setting an example. Eventually, however, they should work themselves out of the job. Casey Vanderbeek saw himself moving into "an advisory type of position." Susan Willett in Yap referred to herself as a "catalyst." Others have called the Volunteer a "facilitator."

It is sometimes best to remove yourself physically from the community to give people a chance to act on their own.

Returning from vacation, Susan Willett was delightfully surprised to find that her counterpart had arranged to have the legends they had selected for the English curriculum illustrated while she was away. She also found that on their own initiative, the community was able to get the folk tales published. Casey Vanderbeek also found progress made while he was away. His absence, however, also uncovered problems that were not apparent while he was there. In the time remaining, he had a chance to correct them.