“Making a Difference...
One Village at a Time”:

the Peace Corps Partnership Program

 

James G. Miller, Jr.

The Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) is a wonderful tool for exposing your students to another region of the world and helping them realize their own potential for making a difference. This is accomplished through entering a partnership with a Peace Corps volunteer working in the field. Within a single school year, your students can choose, help fund, and follow the progress of a small-scale development project in a village hosting a Peace Corps volunteer. Throughout the year, they will be engaged in a cross-cultural exchange with the people of the village.

The Peace Corps Partnership Program has been around almost as long as the Peace Corps itself. Soon after the first volunteers went overseas in 1961, many reported a need for more money to help the villages in which they were working. Villagers desperately needed basic improvements in their quality of life—for example, wells, schools, and health care facilities—that were beyond their ability to provide for themselves. The Peace Corps responded by developing a program through which a volunteer could apply for money to support a finite, small-scale development project. Over time, more than 4000 such projects have been funded by schools, civic and religious groups, and individuals. In 1999 alone, some 151 projects were funded to the tune of $487,967.

Corcoran High School students in Syracuse, New York, have funded a Peace Corps Partnership Project annually since 1983. These projects have included one each in Asia and Eastern Europe, three in Latin America, and eleven in Africa. Our current project is helping to build a maternity ward for the people of Gonse and ten surrounding villages in Burkina Faso. The project is being managed by the Corcoran International Relations Club and supported by students in Global History and Geography classes. The total cost of this project is $7,854. We raise funds by selling student-created note cards (this year’s theme is children’s faces) and peace theme t-shirts printed for us by former students (Holy Shirt! Inc.).

Being situated next door to John T. Roberts School (K-8) has enabled us to combine efforts in supporting projects. The younger students at Roberts have conducted penny drives; for example, in 1991 they collected 65,000 pennies to purchase a Braille writer for the first school for the blind in all of central Africa. This project, for which we raised $8,500 in construction funds, was coordinated by Rod (Corcoran 1979) and Megan Fick. Many young people in the Central African Republic develop river blindness (falaria) from the bites of a small fly; this school aims to help them live independent lives. Another advantage of working with the Roberts School is the opportunity it gives our students to teach younger children what they have learned from partnering with a Peace Corps volunteer. Our students have developed lesson plans about other cultures—language, children’s games, foods, and so on—using artifacts sent back to us by volunteers.

 

Choosing a Project

How do students select a project to support? The choice involves exploring what development really means—what is helpful and what isn’t—and each project has provided us with invaluable lessons about this. In considering whether to fund a water well in a village in Benin, students learned that its women had to walk seven kilometers round trip each day to get water from a river bed. The well we funded was lined with concrete rings, had a winch to bring up buckets of water, and had a long concrete trough to carry water to cattle pastured some distance away. The health factors involved in determining how to build this well provided students with a lesson in itself.

The Peace Corps Partnership Program publishes a list of available projects on a monthly basis (see the box on page 213 for details about how to apply). Proposed projects go through a rigorous screening before they make the list. A project must be one that villagers need and want—not just one that the Peace Corps volunteer thinks would be good for the village! It has to help women on an equal basis with men. It has to be finite; there can be no added obligations for the partner. And, the villagers must contribute at least 25 percent of the total cost. Usually their contribution is in kind—labor or building materials. The cost of a project ranges from a few
hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. The Peace Corps deducts nothing for administrative costs, so you know that every penny your students raise will go toward its completion.

Peace Corps volunteers provide you with quarterly reports and photos of progress (and other information you may ask for). Your students may participate in a Peace Corps Partnership Project by committing to one-half of the total cost, if you hesitate to commit to the entire amount. One of the best aspects of the program is that the Peace Corps will advance the funds you pledge to raise as soon as you make your commitment. In this way, you can follow the progress made on the project as you work toward raising the funds. For our maternity ward project, the entire timeframe from commitment to completion of construction was six months, although it took considerably longer to finish the fundraising.

You should initiate a project early if you want to see it completed within one school year. Some years, I ask all of my Global students to select a project, other times, only the members of the International Relations Club. We begin by determining the criteria that are important to us—cost, geographic region, urgency of the problem addressed, and efficacy of the solution proposed by the Peace Corps volunteer. We consider how many people the project will help, specific ways it helps women, and the project’s life expectancy—as well as other factors students may bring in. For example, students nine years ago wanted to help a village in the Ivory Coast that was facing a cholera epidemic. They were unanimous in choosing a project to build twelve latrines for the market town and its schools. They also supported a need brought up by the PC volunteer—teaching the villagers how using the latrines rather than the fields would help prevent illness.

In any given month, the Peace Corps Partnership Program may have 20-40 projects available for funding. It is relatively simple for students to go through the project offerings and pare them down to five or six to vote on. The dialogue and exploration phase—just locating the projects on a map—is fun and can be done in a class period. Our choice of twelve or so projects in Africa reflects the fact that Corcoran has about a 45 percent minority population.

Once students choose a project, they should call at once to find out whether it is still available for funding. If so, they should write a letter immediately to the Peace Corps volunteer. The PCPP will provide you with a copy of the complete proposal. This document is a wealth of information and potential lessons on such topics as the country’s history and culture, any colonial impact, ethnic diversity, the economy and development problems, and the health and standard of living of the people. It will also contain a complete project budget—perfect for teaching math—in both local and U.S. currencies.

 

Components of the Project

Peace Corps Partnership Projects may entail varying levels of involvement. At Corcoran High School (9-12), a project typically has several components.

 

Learning

One component involves what you want students to learn from the project and how it fits into the curriculum. Global History and Geography is a two-year course required of all 9th and 10th graders in New York State. Virtually any Peace Corps project matches issues found in Unit 8: Global Connections and Interactions of the New York State social studies curriculum. We devote one or two class periods per month to learning about the people and culture of the village involved in our project. Good sources of information beyond PCPP materials are the Culturgrams published by Brigham Young University.

What we teach often depends on what we receive from the Peace Corps volunteer. Some volunteers have been wonderful about sending artifacts—everyday tools, toys, fabrics, and so on used in the village. Over the years, we have collected a small “museum” of materials to use with students. When we ask them to guess the purpose of each item in a scavenger hunt, the “stick” (read: toothbrush) gets ’em every time. On a higher level, development issues are part of the state curriculum, and our projects encourage students to think more critically about issues that have acquired a personal meaning for them. Consider, for example, the project involving a school for the blind in the Central African Republic. Ideally, helping to prevent the disease that makes children blind would have been a better project, but that lies in the realm of UNICEF and WHO rather than a single Peace Corps volunteer. The discussion of this injustice provided students with food for thought at the time.

Teaching

Our students, in turn, use the knowledge they are acquiring to teach students at the Roberts School. Writing lesson plans for younger students is a terrific way for older students to absorb the lessons a project teaches. The older students work in teams to prepare for teaching primary age students. We try especially to learn something about the lives of children in a village—their day-to-day activities, games, and language. Our students have asked the younger children at Roberts to draw pictures and write letters or stories to send to the children of a village. Sometimes we send crayons and paper that they can use to write back.

A popular lesson involves presenting “artifacts” sent by the Peace Corps volunteer and asking younger students to guess what they are and how they were made. We have also used audiotapes from the village—recordings of music and of children talking and singing. And we have prepared authentic meals (in whole or in part) using foods eaten in the village. The variety and success of lessons depends on the quality of the exchange between our students and the Peace Corps volunteer. Several of our student teachers have gone on into elementary teaching, for which I hope we can claim some credit.

 

Fundraising

The most time-consuming aspect of our projects is fundraising. This is done for the most part by members of the International Relations Club through their annual newsletter. Club members staff exhibits at arts and crafts events and social studies conferences, and make presentations to interested community groups. All of these efforts help them to develop important interpersonal skills.

We also raise money by printing notecards. Each year, art students at Corcoran are invited to participate in a competition for the design of these notecards. They are given the theme—the last three having been children’s faces, animals of the Peace Corps world, and medicinal herbs of West Africa. Next year, they will draw birds of the developing world. The winners receive five sets of cards, all the publicity that goes with promoting the cards (often including a plug by Willard Scott on the Today Show), and—not least—the satisfaction of having made their own personal contribution to the project.

 

Conclusion

Service learning has become an important part of the curriculum in many schools. The Peace Corps Partnership Program offers a fine opportunity for your students to engage in community service, both locally and globally. These projects offer your students a real life experience that no textbook can. And they engage students at a very direct level.

In the Ivory Coast project described earlier, the plan was to dig the pit latrines ten meters deep and build outhouses over them. Unfortunately, in one instance, the structure was not in place before a farmer’s cow wandered into the pit and had to be destroyed. The students were very concerned, thinking it unlikely that the farmer had more than one cow. They asked if we could find out how much a cow cost, and then raised the $500 needed to replace it. In return, the farmer sacrificed a chicken in honor of the students at Corcoran—an honor most young Americans haven’t experienced.

Over the years we have helped construct six primary schools, one well, two maternity wards, a medicinal herb garden, a community health center, and the school for the blind, among other projects. Some of our students have grown up to become teachers—more than one as a result of the experience of teaching at Roberts—and several of our graduates have gone on to serve in the Peace Corps.

Your students have much to give and much to gain by participating in the Peace Corps Partnership Program. Our motto is “Making a difference…one village at a time!”

 

James G. Miller, Jr. teaches Global History and Geography at Corcoran High School in Syracuse, New York.

 

Project: A Maternity Ward in Gonse, Burkina Faso

 Amaris Kinne

This is adapted from an article published in the newsletter of the Corcoran High School International Relations Club. The author is president of the club.

 

With the dawn of the new millennium it is quite appropriate that our 17th annual project is the largest undertaking in the history of the club. The construction of a maternity ward in Burkina Faso is a welcome challenge and a chance to give an invaluable service.

Located in one of the most indigent countries in the world, Gonse is an underdeveloped village just east of the capital city of Ouagadougou….Gonse has a regional health center which is one of the biggest generators of income. The health center serves villages up to 11 miles away—a total population of approximately 11,000 people. The health center’s staff consists of a nurse, her assistant, a midwife, and the manager of the pharmacy. Though the health center is a step in the right direction, to improve the health of the people the meager services need to be improved upon. The life expectancy in Burkina Faso is 45 years. The ratio of hospital beds to people is 1:1,837, and of physicians to people is 1:27,158. In addition, out of every 1000 babies born, 109 die during infancy.

The region of Gonse is in dire need of a maternity clinic. Most of the clients of the health center are women and children, making their needs a priority at the clinic. According to Peace Corps volunteer Naudia Bryan, three days a week have been set aside just for women and children. Although this is positive, the services are taking place under abominable conditions. The health center has been encouraging women to have their deliveries in the health center rather than at home. Consequently, the number of babies delivered at the center has increased. But at present, mothers who are expecting are delivering in the hospital ward. There is no separate maternity ward. The ward is also used as a quarantine area for patients with infectious diseases and is so crammed that newborns and mothers are exposed to contagious diseases.

The construction of a maternity ward exclusively for childbirth will be a positive situation. It will increase the number of women who utilize the health center’s services and will help to decrease the maternal and infant mortality rates. It will also increase the income to the clinic, which will be used to “fund awareness campaigns on prenatal consultations, family planning, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.”

Ours will not be the only effort, either. Those who will use the ward and health center are contributing all available natural resources as well as skilled and unskilled labor to the construction. The money we raise will buy 25 tons of cement, 25 sheets of zinc roofing, 55 sheets of plywood, 8 doors, re-rod, quicklime, and miscellaneous hardware. All of the sand, gravel, rock and labor is being contributed by the community.

Comparing Health Statistics

Health Care Criteria Burkina Faso United States
Life expectancy 45 Male 46 Female 73 Male 80 Female
Hospital beds 1:1,837 1:218
Physicians 1:27,158 1:391
Infant mortality rate
(per 1000 live births)
109 8

Project: A Primary School in Mali

 

One of the most remarkable projects our students helped to support was building a primary school for nine Dogon villages in Mali. These villages are situated at the base of the Bandiagara cliffs, where the Dogon people migrated centuries ago. The only way to school for the village children was to climb ladders set in a crack in the 200-600 foot cliffs and then walk for several miles. The people of nine villages wanted to build a school together. Peace Corps volunteers Dawn Rogier and Kris Hoffer worked with their chiefs and elders to choose a location and draw up plans for the school.

The school was built of stone from the cliffs. However, the only way to get the stone was to carve it from the clifftops and carry it down one rock at a time. Because the villages are spread out at the base of the cliffs, the stones could not just be thrown down. The cooperation required to accomplish this was phenomenal. Young men from the villages—too old themselves to benefit directly from attending the schoo#151;carried the thousands of rocks needed down the ladders in the cliff walls.

Meanwhile, elementary students at the John T. Roberts School were busy collecting 20,000 pennies. These were used by their soccer coach to purchase twelve soccer balls hand sewn in Pakistan. Although soccer is the national sport of Mali, none of the young men in these villages had ever played with a real soccer ball; balls made of tightly-tied rags are the norm. The soccer balls and a pump to inflate them were sent to Peace Corps volunteer Kris Hoffer and used in a soccer tournament among the villages to celebrate the schoo#146;s completion. Another Peace Corps volunteer asked a Malian soccer player to help out, and the result was indescribable. To cap the day’s events, each village took home one of the soccer balls.

Corcoran students followed up on this effort by raising money for a second project: the creation of a medicinal herb garden for the nine villages. Its purpose was to propagate—and, in some cases, to preserve from extinction—important medicinal herbs native to the region. Our money bought a half-mile of wire fencing to protect the garden. One thing our students learned from this project was how the use of various medicinal herbs compares with Western medical practices. Our notecard artists borrowed books from Cornel#146;s Mann Library to locate pictures of the plants being grown, and our French teacher helped out by translating the text. As best we could, we matched up the herbs described in the books with those being raised in the medicinal herb garden in Mali.

 

 

Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP)

You can find out what PCPP projects are available each month by calling the Office of Private Sector Relations (1-800-424-8580) or by going to the Peace Corps website (www.peacecorps.gov). Be sure to ask for “Educating through the Peace Corps Partnership Program,” a useful overview of the program.

 

You can write to Peace Corps volunteers at the following address (this is a diplomatic pouch):

Peace Corps Partnership Program

Peace Corps

1111 20th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20526

 

You can contact Jim Miller by writing to The Corcoran School, 919 Glenwood Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13207) or sending an e-mail (jmiller@freeside.scsd.k12.ny.us).

 

You can help support the PCPP program at Corcoran and Roberts by purchasing notecards. Please send $8/set of 12 assorted cards with matching envelopes postpaid.

You can obtain Culturgrams published by Brigham Young University by writing to:

BYU Publications Division

David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies

Brigham Young University

P.O. Box 24538

Provo, UT 84602-4538

Telephone: 800-528-6279

Website: www.byu.edu/culturgrams