Updated: Jul 17
By Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir
Dr. Ben-Meir discusses the Peace Corps and its untapped potential for the Arab Spring and for international development as a whole.
While typical two-year Peace Corps volunteer assignments are likely prohibitive in many Arab Spring countries, Peace Corps Response, the agency’s program for shorter, specialized assignments is perhaps more suited to the region in the current circumstances. Response Volunteers ought to be offered to universities in Arab Spring countries, especially since such contact can be an excellent gateway to human development opportunities for the students in their engagement with local communities. Hassan II University is Morocco’s first experience in 2010—and success—in utilizing a Response Volunteer in this way, and it was achieved in partnership with the High Atlas Foundation. This participatory development manual, development by Response Volunteer Lillian Thompson, is a direct result that is utilized today by Moroccan communities.
Currently, the quantity of Volunteer projects across the agency is, I suggest, well lower than potential, partially because of the extremely small amount of funding Volunteers can access (sometimes less than $500 per volunteer per year, contributed from USAID’s Small Project Assistance program). Furthermore, as part of a government agency, there are boundaries to the extent Volunteers can raise funds for local community projects. Considering, for example, that a village clean drinking water system can range in price from $5,000 to $25,000, a Volunteer should more ideally receive (in combination from expanding USAID’s Small Project Assistance grants and from the host countries) an annual project development allowance of $5,000 to accomplish a major local human development impact.
This, combined with appropriate Volunteer training in facilitating participatory planning, would make the Peace Corps the most immediately productive and cost-effective international development agency of the United States (and likely of any government). Adopting this approach with Kennedy’s vision to expand the agency to 100,000 Volunteers, the Peace Corps would achieve its latent global potential to advance popular development.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir has been working in development since he joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Morocco in 1993. In 2000, he co-founded the High Atlas Foundation and served as president of the Board of Directors until January 2011, and since has been president of operations. Dr. Ben-Meir was a member of the faculty at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (2009-10). He has a PhD degree in sociology from the University of New Mexico (2009) where he also taught, an MA in international development from Clark University (1997), and a BA in economics from New York University (1991).
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