Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador

A week ago, the Miami Herald ran this story about US Peace Corps volunteers in El Salvador:
On a parched corner of this Central American nation where searing heat and dust punish those who live here, Brendan McCleary leads a group of youngsters on a hike for an up-close look at the hemisphere's second-most deforested country.

"It's hot here, right? Why?" McCleary, 24, asks the nodding children at a clearing in the sparse woods.

"Because there are no trees," several shout.

McCleary and Nathan Dollar, stationed at another community in the same region, are part of a reviving U.S. program that was launched by President Kennedy in 1961: the Peace Corps.

The agency rose to 15,500 volunteers in the mid-1960s, then dropped to about 5,000 in the Reagan era. With little fanfare or publicity, the Peace Corps has grown again to some 7,750 volunteers, mostly single young adults involved in everything from health to agriculture assistance programs in 139 countries. Once viewed as an agency that focused mostly on infrastructure needs like digging wells, the Peace Corps now concentrates on education, health, business development and environmental projects.

"The Peace Corps is less about building bridges and getting potable water," said Dollar, 25, from North Carolina. "It's about human-to human-contact and capacity building -- human development on a grass-roots level."

And where volunteers were once eyed with suspicion, sometimes even regarded as CIA agents, they are now widely embraced.

"We define being welcome on whether or not we feel safe in a country," said David D'Agostino Leavitt, a Peace Corps spokesman. "In the countries we're in now, there is a comfortable marriage."

The Peace Corps now clearly feels safe in El Salvador. More than 1,600 volunteers have served in this country. But the agency pulled out in 1979, amid a bloody civil war, and did not return until 1993. It currently has 156 volunteers in this small and largely poor nation.(more)

Many Peace Corps volunteers have blogs which can be found here. Read about their experiences in El Salvador in their own words.


Anonymous said…
People around the world do not need person-to-person contact or relationships offered by an organization sponsored by a government. We all know and always will know that the peace corps are scouts for the US. They are looking for resource or others ways to exploit the country. Bastards, why don't provide just teachers to teach at local schools. That would go a long way. They fucking do nothing for the locals.
Caesar said… I can't believe there are people out there who actually think this. And they do act as teachers, in fact I know in El Salvador that there are various pcv's who teach in their communities schools. You didn't even bother looking through the links that Tim provided.
Unknown said…
this comment is made to the first anonymous comment made...
I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in El Salvador also Salvadoran born and naturalized citizen of the U.S
I came as a PCV to my country of birth to help in any small or big way possible. I am fully aware of the history of El Salvaldor and the negative assistance the U.S gave to the military here through the Reagan administration, therefore I dont feel the least bit bad about using U.S government money to be here as a PCV. I write this as to let that person know I am not ignorant of my history.
As a PCV I stand in El Salvador alongside other "gringo" PCV's to do what most if not all Salvadorans living here (in E.S) and abroad do NOT do for their country, and that is to help and work alongside the poorest and marginalized peoples in El Salvador. If you would of read or looked up Peace Corps programs you would of learned that most of those programs are based in the schools and we not only work as teachers, but make BETTER teachers because we are not working for a paycheck nor were we placed in that job through the favor of some political party, we are teaching out of our own will and desire. Thankfully most Salvadorans are so beautiful that have welcomed me, and helped me help them and dont share your simple ignorance. As far as I know and know the PCV community I've yet to meet a self-serving person, or a scout or a CIA, in Peace Corps. In case you have not noticed, there aren't any more real resources that President Tony Saca has not ravaged and given away to the U.S with out the need of any "U.S scout" assistance. What are you doing to improve your country or your people anonymous?
Anonymous said…
To those who are trying to make see the light. I'm a Salvadorian who from being extremely poor made something of himself. I was a member of the Peace Corps in the 90s till I discover their dirty secret.

If you think El Salvador people need you and if you think you are actually making a change you are totally mistaken. If the peace corps was an organization that wanted change in my country. They would fight the government and be activist instead of teachers. That will have an unimaginable effect.

There might be 200 of you trying to help but all it takes is one to write reports and send them back to the home base. You all have been blinded by the desire to help that you don't the real truth. Hopefully one day you will realize that changes are made by joining the little people and hold their hands. Changes are made by fighting the big fish and going heat-to-head against the corrupt politicians. The peace corps is big enough and it gets enough funds to do that. Why doesn't it do it.

You all need to expand your minds and understand how the world works rather than judging me by your ignorant comments.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous, the Peace Corps is not a political or activist organization like Amnesty International or something similar. The whole point is to provide teachers (and many other types of workers), not political activists, which is why volunteers are not allowed to engage in any political activities in their host countries.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be activist organizations, and I don't know enough about the intricacies of El Salvadorean politics to know what changes may be needed there. But again, Peace Corps doesn't exist to address these problems-- its goals are focused on grass-roots sustainable development and cultural interchange.

Frankly (and this may just be feeding the trolls at this point), I get the sense that you don't really know very much about the Peace Corps. First you criticize them for not sending teachers (when the largest percentage of volunteers are teachers or teacher trainers), and then you don't understand that Peace Corps is not a political organization. Finally, based on your second response when you claimed to be a volunteer yourself, you appear not to know that you have to be a US citizen in order to be a volunteer.

Perhaps you worked with a Peace Corps volunteer and just didn't make that clear, but really, people are much more likely to treat your opinions with respect if you get your facts straight.
Anonymous said…
Not sure if you understand my point regarding the Peace Corps. You message makes no sense in regards to my comments. I was a Peace Corps member and I got my facts clear. Can you explain to me how an organization that trains teachers who cannot even get jobs or who don't get money for the materials they need. How do those teachers get the students to come to class? What do you do to get the students into class? Do you think a bunch of kids who barely know about the world would do an adequate job? Why doen't the peace corp just collect donations and create the facilities and hire the teachers to educate the children. El Salvador actually has a surplus of teachers who are unemployed. I bet they can do the job better than you can. All they need is the facility, the money to pay the teachers, and marketing need to change mothers/fathers minds to send the children to school.
Anonymous said…
Hello, "Anonymous" maybe you would look less guilty if you didn't hide and actually use your name. However that is my brother your talking about, so I would appreciate if you didn't talk about him and the Peace Corps like that, thank you.