Christian Science Monitor Examines Peace Corps’ Efforts To Attract Experienced Volunteers for Work Related to HIV/AIDS, Other Issues
The Christian Science Monitor on Friday examined how the Peace Corps is attempting to attract skilled volunteers as it begins to address "more complex issues," such as HIV/AIDS, and "professionalize" the agency.
Peter Parr, the agency's country director in Ethiopia, last year approached Ethiopian officials about the possibility of increasing Peace Corps volunteers' work on the HIV epidemic in the country. However, the officials said that such an approach would require more skilled volunteers rather than recent college graduates with little work experience.
In Ethiopia, the Peace Corps operates with funding from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, making volunteers' work on the disease an "increasingly prominent part of its portfolio," the Monitor reports. However many volunteers lack the "commitment and capacity" to handle such work, Meskele Lera, deputy director of the Ethiopian agency that oversees HIV/AIDS activities, said.
The Peace Corps is increasing its efforts to attract retirees with professional experience by reducing the necessary medical screenings and by recruiting volunteers from groups such as AARP and the retired teachers' association. According to Peace Corps spokesperson Joellen Duckett, applications from people older than age 50 have increased by 60% since September 2007, when the agency began actively recruiting retirees.
Kevin Quigley, president of the National Peace Corps Association for returned volunteers, is advocating for more "drastic" reforms to the agency by reducing volunteers' 27-month service commitment. Quigley, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, said he and many other former volunteers would like to volunteer again but are unable to take such a long absence from work.
Quigley has suggested reforms that would allow older volunteers to travel to focus countries intermittently over several years and provide guidance to local partners via e-mail and phone. There is growing support among lawmakers for significant reforms to allow such changes by the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary in 2011, Quigley said.
According to the Monitor, efforts to reform the Peace Corps are coming after similar Japanese and British agencies reformed their programs to make "measurable contributions" to developing countries. The Japanese program about 10 years ago was incorporated into an international aid agency through which volunteers and professionals work together in focus countries. The British Volunteer Service Overseas program considers applicants based on their work experience and professional credentials. The average age of VSO volunteers is 41, compared with 26 for Peace Corps volunteers, the Monitor reports.
"You can't replace [work] experience," Peace Corps Director Ronald Tschetter said, adding that retirees have the "same kind of passion" as recent college graduates but "have 30 years of experience to bring along with it." Quigley added that it is "absolutely" a "historic moment" for the agency (Benequista, Christian Science Monitor, 4/25).