Type in the words “Peace Corps Guilt” into a search engine, and you’ll find a post written by a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. Below that, you’ll see search results from people riffing on what she had to say, along with other pieces bearing the same themes: guilt, development, atrocities happening in the places and to the people in most need of a stable ground from which to rebuild.
We live in an age of abundance and opportunity, but access exists only for a few percentage points of the world’s population. While I served in the Peace Corps in Niger, during a period when the program celebrated its 45th anniversary of being in-country, a series of questions kept rising to the surface.
How many years, labor hours, and millions or even billions of dollars have gone into global development? Similarly, how many resources have we mobilized for development in the US? And yet, where do we see the fruits of this work?
True, the last 50 years are marked with huge steps forward, yet at each phase along the way, the possibility of slipping back loomed large — now more than ever. No amount of capital resources spent domestically or internationally can replace the essential mindset of a global will to be one community of respect and reciprocity. My greatest accomplishment in the Peace Corps came through relationships, not projects. Getting to truly know another person of a different background, understanding their world view and what gets them up every morning should be a prerequisite for being human.
I have no doubt that government, business, and the social sector will continue to shape our communities in the name of development, but the world born out of this work is still unknown. Whether we progress towards a more interconnected, interdependent, and collaborative society or one with greater barriers, animosity, dependencies, and competition depends on how we envision each other as stakeholders.
TayaSola, a company whose mission is to promote energy independence by selling the components initially for solar lantern kits and ultimately so people around the world can make the systems to generate the power they need, understands that the people served by businesses – both for profit and non-profit – must be considered as peers, not clients.
A development mindset focused on being service providers is an aging paradigm. It must be replaced with something that acknowledges the role we each play as contributors and collaborators on the local level and radiating outward. This starts by inspiring each other this holiday season.
Have a happy final two weeks of 2012, and embrace the possibilities that come in 2013.