Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Call for answers: Does Peace Corps help Turkmenistan? Why/Why not?

by Charles Gussow, T-11

As many of you know, Turkmenistan initially invited, then declined to issue visas to the Volunteer group set to arrive in autumn 2009. An agreement has since been reached to invite a smaller group, consisting only of health volunteers, to begin service this spring.

Given the ambivalence shown by the Turkmen government, now is an opportune moment to ask - Is the Peace Corps good for Turkmenistan? Why or why not?

Obviously, Peace Corps has immeasurably enriched the lives of Volunteers who experience Turkmen culture, learned new languages, and broadened their worldview. Similarly, the Turkmen citizens who interact with Volunteers learn about another country, gain new skills, and sometimes find friendship with someone from a wildly different background from their home.

But these clear individual gains must be the beginning, not the end of the discussion about the role of Peace Corps. These experiences, dear to us all, are paid for by funds from the U.S. government, Turkmen government, and host community members. US Peace Corps dollars represent money that is not going into USAID grants for Turkmenistan; space allocated by Turkmen governmental bodies for the use of Volunteer-sponsored community centers is space not being used for a classroom; hours spent by a nurse helping a Volunteer translate a health poster into Turkmen are hours that could be spent earning extra money for his or her family.

Given that Peace Corps Turkmenistan, as in every country, entails community and national expenses, what are the community and national benefits that Turkmenistan receives? What metrics can we use to track those benefits? How can we know whether public benefits outweigh public costs? Does it even matter?

Share your comments below or by emailing them to me at charles@friendsofturkmenistan.org.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic question. Working for a tiny nonprofit, my colleagues and I are expected to take on additional job responsibilities (that yield no income). I pulled 'volunteer coordinator.' In what may be a giant karmic punch to the face (pun intended), I am now responsible for making sure that euro-american kids who want to help the Cambodian former refugees don't do too much harm while having an enlightening experience. Most of the benefits to the community are cumulative, and take time to root. Measuring these benefits is difficult, but I think Peace Corps could benefit from doing a formal needs assessment in each community to establish some baseline data and measure outcomes through community surveys, sharing this with volunteers and their local colleagues. Some form of data collection could be both persuasive to the Turkmen government and helpful in placing and monitoring volunteers.
    -Emily (t-11)