I’m often asked by Peruvians how I got here. Not just how I got to Peru, but also to my town. After all, we’re slightly off the beaten path (and other volunteer sites even more so). And the truth is, it’s kind of a shot in the dark.
In Peru, the regional coordinator is largely responsible for site development. The APCDs (the program directors) also contribute, and might solely be responsible in other countries or regions where the don’t have regional coordinators. Regional coordinators get advice from people in the regional capital, other volunteers, and their own personal knowledge of the region.
Programs also have requirements for sites. Our medio program largely works in protected areas in the mountains, or at least more remote areas (although a few of them work on beach front sites!). Equally Health volunteers almost exclusively work in small sierra communities to focus on rural poverty health issues (or in Tumbes doing HIV/AIDS work) while WATSAN volunteers are split between the coast and mountains to work with water committees. Or requirements might be that a site has a school with a special-ed program (Youth) or an artesian group (Business).
So the regional coordinator makes the initial visit to the site (announced) to meet with local authorities and talk about Peace Corps and what a volunteer is (human resource) and is not (money). If everything seems cool, a second visit is made with a specific program director and possibly another staff member to formally sit down and explain what the volunteer would be doing. Depending on the program, they may also meet with the school directors, health post, environmental group, etc.
Additionally, they look for possible housing for the volunteer. In Peru, we all have to live with host families and there’s a list of safety and health requirements for the house and the volunteer living quarters. If everything is in order, they set up an arrangement with the family to house the volunteer.
For all volunteers, the local Municipality has to write a letter to Peace Corps to direct solicit a volunteer to work in their jurisdiction. More than anything, this is to allow us to have our special 2-year visas instead of the 30-day tourist visa.
But the truth is, the Municipality and partner organizations are going to have a limited understanding of what exactly a volunteer is and what they’re going to be doing in site. Future volunteers can expect to rehearse their quick and dirty story about their job, because they’ll be doing it a lot. That’s not to say volunteers go ignored or people scratch their head curiously at the volunteer. Rather, once in site it’s up the volunteer to define their own role and work. Initially they may doing mostly side projects (teaching english, helping out at the health post) and that’s cool, because the first month are so are just meant for the volunteer to get adjusted and learn about the community. But once they find their stride and do some diagnostic work, volunteers usually quickly find work which interests them and their communities partners. The execution is a different story….