My nephew, Andrew, has been in Togo with the Peace Corps for more than a year, with another left. He is providing not just his work and labor, but is now helping a group of farmers learn about self-financed sustainable farming practices. If they are successful, it may be a model for the whole village of 200 people.
And perhaps other villages.
Andrew reports having plowed fields with oxen, planted crops, and trees.
But what I find most interesting is not that his actions may help for the coming crop harvest, but his perspective on how to get things done.
What is really exciting to me is that now I have a year left to make some serious impact. I have the respect of the community and the Togolese people in general. I am no longer the “white guy”
It is with his year of service that he earned that respect, and from which he is able to have a serious impact. It may have helped that Andrew is an exceptional young man, with strength of will, passion, and a strong sense of duty.
But there’s no doubt that a lot of sweat and deprivation were involved.
A Letter from the Corps
I am also struck by the parallels to this letter from my nephew in the Peace Corps one might find in a letter home from one of our country’s soldiers.
Each may have a serious impact, each has stepped beyond their own self-interest to do something important, faces danger, and which takes great effort and deprivation. Each has thrust themselves into a completely foreign environment and culture. And each has done this voluntarily. It’s also true that neither has any guarantee of success. I have nothing but respect for them.
An Ounce of Cure is worth Two Thousand Ounces of Prevention?
What does seem a little out of balance is that the Peace Corps has an annual budget of $325 Million. The US Military has an annual budget of $668.6 Billion. No, that’s not more than twice the Peace Corps, it’s more than two thousand times the budget of the Peace Corps.
I do not pretend to suggest that there’s really any comparison between the Peace Corps and the U.S. Military, certainly not one that would offer any meaningful financial comparison. Nor do I suggest that we don’t need an army. We need one, and it needs to be big, and strong.
Today, we are navigating through various world crises, many relating to shortages of water, food and energy which are likely to get worse as climate change moves inexorably forward. As we have seen in Sudan (and arguably in Iraq) these kinds shortages lead to famine, and are greatly destabilizing, which can precipitate war.
And perhaps our new legislatures and President should consider the possibilities of prevention.
In such a world, perhaps the kind of work that Andrew is doing has at least some fraction of the merit of the work that our military does.
In the abstract, the work Andrew does seem like things that might help avert war. The current calculus is that war is two thousand times more expensive than the Peace Corps. Yet is the work of one person like Andrew in the Peace Corps potentially just as valuable, as a preventive measure?
It seems to me that this is the kind of work we need to promote as we tackle the real problems of the coming decades, and not just outside of our borders.
Later in his letter Andrew writes:
I’ve been working with this village since February, but it has taken this long to be able to introduce a concept like this. Up until now, I’ve only worked with individuals. But after gaining their trust and respect they have opened up to the idea of, in its most basic terms, teamwork — the idea that if you consolidate your resources (individuals and land), maybe everyone can profit.
As far as I understand, this is pretty close to a description of American ideals. Yet Andrew’s work is not abstract: it is concrete and real.
And his work is noble.