30 October 2006

The Process of Acquiring or Becoming a Volunteer

I recently received an e-mail from someone concerned about ´who determines what development needs to be done´ by Peace Corps volunteers. I thought I would explain the process a little bit on how Peace Corps volunteers are placed. The process essentially starts in two places at once: In the US, where volunteers are applying, and in host countries where volunteers are placed.

In host countries, agencies throughout the country officially are the first group who ask for help. They acquire a form to request a volunteer, turn it in to the Peace Corps in-country offices, and begin a long courtship with the Peace Corps via people known as Associate Peace Corps Directors (APCD). Now, in reality, there is often a relationship existing before hand. Usually, the APCDs have ongoing relationships with various NGOs and government offices in the country. As is usually the case, information passes by word of mouth. Maybe there was a Peace Corps volunteer at another organization in a nearby community, and often the same organization asks for Peace Corps volunteers several years in a row. These 'who you know' relationships greatly determine who ends up getting a volunteer. That doesn´t mean that there is not a need for the volunteers, but, at least in Guatemala, there is no systematic plan of placing Peace Corps volunteers in places of geatest need.

Organizations that apply for Peace Corps volunteers are advanced enough to have hired staff, not-for-profit status, and usually links to some type of international aid. Agencies have repeated visits with an APCD to ensure that they are 1) have adequate and appropriate work for a volunteer and 2) can provide the basic requirements of security and health. Agencies do not have to provide any funds to acquire a Peace Corps volunteer, as opposed to the Americorps process.

In the United States during this period of time, Jane Idealist usually catches wind of the idea of Peace Corps, and starts applying. First she meet a recruiter or talk on the phone, who then sends out some information (takes a month or two). If Jane is already sure about the process, she hops online, skips step one, and begins filling out her online Peace Corps application at www.peacecorps.gov, which is a very useful website for applying volunteers but no one else. Once done, will get a phone call from a Peace Corps volunteer within a few weeks and then will set up either a phone or in-person interview within the following couple of months. After her interview, she begins the real application process, which is long and very miserable. Once medically, legally, and financially cleared, you are assigned to a person whose job it is to determine your program. Everything Jane has said up to this point is in a folder that is given to this person. I found, however, that a long conversation with this person is the best way of getting a site that fits you. They select your site based on a few cookie-cutter descriptions (for me, Agriculture Marketing Facilitator) and a region (for me, Central or Latin America). She then mails you a folder with a little description and your country name, after which you have 10 days to accept or decline.

Next, you just wait until Staging & Training. In training, you are trained for your position, usually at the same time of other people taking similar positions (for me, Agricultural Marketing). During Training, you are assigned a site. You meet somebody that works at your agency, and then learn about the agency, the type of work they had in mind when they applied, and they learn about your abilities and what kind of work you have in mind. At this point, Peace Corps steps out in many manners, and leaves it between you and your host agency to determine your work. Some agencies seek volunteers for specific projects, but, in my experience, they usually have a rough idea of what kind of work they want you to do, but you can have the final say on what projects you do work on and what projects you don't. So, in review:

Peace Corps serves as a gatekeeper between agencies in various countries and trainer.
Various `Host Country Agencies´ have varying degrees of what they hope the volunteer will do in two years
Volunteers, in the end, determine what projects they work on and the methods used in their work.

Once placed, if there is a disagreement between agencies and volunteers, Peace Corps serves as a mediator, but the only recourse Peace Corps has is terminating a volunteer, which rarely happens for reasons linked to work.

A recruiter once told me it´s best to think of Peace Corps like an employment agency that provides basic training and placement in various situations, but doesn´t have a direct hand in the day-to-day basis of a volunteer.

1 comment:

Rob and Meg said...

This was really helpful--thanks! My fiance and I are going to apply after we're married and after we (hopefully) pay off my credit card debt... To that end, we've started a blog to try to get some money in a unique way... Anyway, it's always nice to hear how it is from real volunteers.

I am required to mention that this blog doesn´t reflect the opinions of the Peace Corps.