The Gringo as the Development Actor


“People from developed countries who do development work have not made common cause with the poor of the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a large international NGO, a small DIY operation, a hulking multilateral like the World Bank, an Irish rock band, the Peace Corps, or whatever. Even if you move to a rural village on your own and live like the locals, you’re still there by choice. That’s a key difference between you and your neighbors that can never be overcome, no matter how much you love each other. You (and I) grew up in a very different environment, with relative luxury and a very different health and educational system. You probably have resources and contacts that could take you back to the US or wherever. You might care a great deal about the fate of a poor community, but your fate is not the same as theirs.”

-Dave Algoso
Find What Works Blog


Peace Corps volunteers have the privilege of being able to leave the communities they work in.  We can leave our communities for the modern capital cities, eat some higher end foods, have a few beers and crash at a hostal/hotel.  Even moreso, if we really feel like it –we can go back home.  Either visiting during Christmas, or just deciding to early termination.  We can go back to our lives, our friends, our families in America. Hell, we have a plane ticket guaranteed!  If we want to early terminate, Peace Corps buys your plane ticket home and within a week you’ll be home. You leave.

And as much as you can be integrated in your community, you’ll leave.  You’ll leave all the problems that you see, all the social injustice, the poverty, the hardships your neighbors deal with. You’ll leave the challenges and the hurdles that you and your counterparts dealt with in order to work with a group of families and gain government money for a few small projects.  And while the children continue to get sub-standard education, you can go back and apply for graduate school fellowships for your two years of work. 

It’s harsh, but it’s true.  

Peace Corps also encourages volunteers to stay for third year positions: country initiatives, volunteer leaders/coordinators, Peace Corps response. Peace Corps encourages volunteers to stay in site for a third year and continue to work in their communities. In many ways it makes sense, especially instead of sending a new volunteer.  The 3rd year volunteer is already integrated and known, knows the community needs and resources and can be more effective at motivating and executing a project plan this time around.  And besides, two years really isn’t enough for any long standing change.  But really, when opportunities for promotions are up and all your PCV friends have left (aka a part of your emotional and technical support), how do you feel about sticking around and putting your life in the States on hold for a year?  Especially when you can just leave and go back to the States and still get a sparkling review. 

I’m guilty of this.  While I want to stay here in Peru for a third year, I’m set on a position with more leadership involved.  PCVLs and PCVCs also work with other NGOs, IOs, or government institutions at a higher level.  It’s more prestigious for me and allows for more experience. I’ll also live in a larger city, either the regional or country capital, with more resources and distractions.  I considered sticking around in my community to continue working but am probably not going to.  But why? My municipalities (local, district AND provincial) support me and show interest in my plans and the work volunteers here do in general. My socio is great, and there’s no lack of work to be done – especially in health promotion.   

But that begs the question – where does it stop? There will always be work to do here, whether I stay or not. But regardless, it shows that I still have that option.  Does that make me selfish? Does this make me less committed?  Wish I had an answer.


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