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Andy Philpot, Editor
Vol. 6, No. 3
The New Peace Corps
By Steve Manning, (13) 64-66
|Steve Manning is Professor of Biology at Arkansas State University - Beebe (near Little Rock). He teach freshmen and sophomores biology, botany, and nutrition.|
of interest to all of us I am sure, President George Bush announced a wish to
double the size of the Peace Corps, including emphasis on serving the Islamic
world. Prominent among suggestions for a 'new mandate' for the Peace Corps have
been encouraging small business entrepreneurship, with particular emphases on
involvement of youth and women. Also recently, Gaddi Vasquez was approved as
Peace Corps director and Jody Olsen as deputy director. Both before, and especially
after, President Bush's announcement, the number of expressions of interest
in joining the Peace Corps increased.
Somewhat less recently, on Nov 15, 2001, the first director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, set forth ideas for a 'New Peace Corps' in a speech at the Yale University Daily News annual banquet. His proposals have been overshadowed by the more recent presidential initiative. Shriver indicated that we could probably question some of the original three goals accompanying the proposed legislation creating the Peace Corps, or scrap them altogether. His proposal included, specifically, that we "renew our vision by concentrating on a new Fourth Goal… to bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all."
Shriver's specific suggestions included (1) continuing programs in education, health, small business entrepreneurship, and other technical assistance; (2) harnessing the potential to spread information technology globally; and (3) deploying talents and dedication of RPCVs domestically and overseas, including all countries of the world, including expansion of the Crisis Corps. These efforts would all support an ultimate goal to create a 'New World of Peace', stripped of all harmful religious and political overtones. A special focus would be harnessing the power of young people of all nations to see the world as it really is, and change it for the better, including eradication of poverty and militarism and working for safety, stability, peace, and health. Conceptually, the Peace Corps would set an example, rather than preaching, by doing positive activities such as monitoring elections, organizing forums, strengthening the ethic of service, and training small-scale entrepreneurs while working with existing organizations in poor countries both in public and private sectors. These activities are possible, perhaps even enhanced, in volatile situations.
Tensions and conflicts in Nigeria exemplify the concerns addressed by Shriver. These include: (1) economic, tribal, linguistic, national, and religious isolation, exacerbated by limited and unequal educational opportunities; (2) a large Islamic population whose real world needs are not less than those of other segments of society; (3) scarcity of forums within which an ethic of service can develop and grow on a sustained basis; and (4) lack of a long-standing democratic tradition, coupled with corruption and sometimes violent factional conflicts. Volunteers doing constructive work related (or not) to these issues could exemplify, for Nigerians, an attractive alternative to continued involvement in the conflicts of the past and present.
What are we to make of all of this? What is likely to happen? To what extent will the new Peace Corps embody Shriver's ideals? How will it play out in Nigeria? What really should happen, in Nigeria and elsewhere? Will the Peace Corps eventually be absorbed by a larger 'Freedom Corps' or other agency? Should it? Will it become part of an international Peace Corps encompassing but not limited to similar volunteer organizations from other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, or China? Should it?
I suggest that these issues be pondered and discussed seriously, including 'thinking outside the box' in a continuing spirit of constructive criticism, by all RPCVs and others concerned about the future of the whole world. What has worked and what hasn't? To what extent are those successes and failures the result of general principles and to what extent are they relatively local phenomena? What adjustments are needed to increase probabilities of future successes?
Despite the bleak news we sometimes get from and of Nigeria, we can all remember the 'people-to-people' aspects of our presence there, no matter from which part or parts of the country. These evidence great potential for the future, so long as the organization and all of its programs remain 'people-to-people', as free as possible from ideological or religious dogma and cultural imperialism, whether in education, health, technology, conservation, business, agriculture, community development, economic development, environmental protection or other yet-to-be seen needs. Many Nigerians presently bemoan the situation there, looking fondly back to the hopes of the 'good old days' shortly after independence. They usually blame their leaders, but maybe it is rather the absence of the Peace Corps, which was active during those days! Perhaps we can convince influential people in all parts of Nigeria that what they really need is a renewed Peace Corps presence! How about a large influx to all parts of the country comparable to the days when Nigeria ranked behind only India in presence, that will lend support to the proposition that what Nigeria really needs is lots more Peace Corps (right?) If Nigerians and we could interact as well as we did in the 1960's, it can be done again and probably improved. Even if those relationships are not permanent, they are remembered on both sides. I predict that insofar as new Peace Corps assignments are all 'people-to-people' first and 'nation-to-nation', 'entrepreneurial', 'technological' or other only secondarily, the new Peace Corps will be successful in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. If they are not, it won't. Programs emphasizing a 'people-to-people' approach as their first priority are the real hope for Shriver's 'New World of Peace', in which all human beings are bound together in a common cause to assure peace and survival. Will the new Peace Corps live up to the renewed and updated ideals so eloquently stated by Sargent Shriver?
Nigeria Through The Eyes Of The Camera
|From left to right: David, Nicholas Nnaji, Manze Ejiogu and Roger with their motocycles which they used to explore the countryside.|
For those of us lacking movie cameras and sound recorders during our stays in Nigeria, "Give Me a Riddle" will reincarnate a Nigeria long submerged in our consciousness by the media's hyper-concentration on AIDS, political chicanery, economic malfeasance and malaise. In the midst of the media barrage, it is difficult but important to remember that daily life in Nigeria, and the aspirations of students and others like those that we knew, continue. I believe the sights and sounds recorded in these films in 1965 are, in much of Nigeria, not far different from life today. Now you have a chance to own these two pieces of memorabilia for yourself.
In "Give Me a Riddle" Roger Landrum(02) 61-63 reconnects in 1965 with three students whom he and David Schickele(02) 61-63, in the first group of Peace Corps volunteers, taught at the University of Nigeria Nsukka from 1961 to 1963. The film follows the former students to their then current locales. Paul Okpokam's is a secondary school in a small Eastern Nigerian village where he teaches - and there Landrum teaches a class. In the town where Gabriel Ogar serves as a District Officer we view the frustrations of a clean-water development project through the eyes of both the village head, a man with a Lincolnian outlook, and the Peace Corps volunteer assigned to the project. In an after-dark assembly of Manze Ejiogu's villagers, Manze and Landrum tell the riddles from which the film gets its name. Landrum's is translated for the villagers, who try to solve it with gusto and some incomprehension, as the riddle, a play on words in English, doesn't really translate into Igbo. This difficulty, and the enthusiasm which everyone brings to trying to understand, is a key theme of the movie. "Give Me a Riddle" lyrically depicts rivers, forest, town life, egun dancing, children, mbari sculptures and palm wine chug-a-lugs, but more importantly it integrates them all, visually and through Landrum's discussions with his former students, into the film's acute focus on the pains and pleasures of cross cultural understanding. The photography is tight; the sounds will transport you back there.
|Paul just before his deportation.|
|Paul Okpokam with Anne Scofield who acted with him in the making of Bushman in California.|