Alanna examines the Peace Corps from a global health perspective:
You have to remember that it’s not an international development organization. It’s a US public diplomacy agency, and a powerful opportunity for personal growth and development. But you don’t join Peace Corps to do international development work, and the organization will tell you that itself.
The opportunity to experience life as though you were poor can give you powerful insight into development and its obstacles. It’s probably the equivalent of a graduate degree in development and what it may or may not mean. But Peace Corps volunteers don’t have the resources, support, or often knowledge to have a long-term impact on the problems they are experiencing. Once again, that’s not a criticism of the volunteers, or of the Peace Corps – it’s just not what the program is designed to do.
UPDATE: One of Alanna’s readers makes the point that the benefits of the Peace Corps are not necessarily found in tangible development results, but rather something much deeper:
I would argue [the Peace Corps] can help people do what the Twitterati, bloggers, and others in business and life have discovered helps them get the job done – form relationships with people that create goodwill over time – which consequently can inspire and support development.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, I admit that only one person in my family and a few close friends had even heard of the country before I lived there. Now, they all speak about Mali as if it were their own backyard, and the concentric circles of people that they are friends with all know about my experience. By making the world seem a little bit smaller, there may not have been direct lives saved because I lived in a village for 2 years, but the ripple effect continues because those people want to participate in causes that they know something about.