What do Extension, eXtension (extension.org), and Peace Corps all have in common? I have participated in all three. Every year in March, Peace Corps holds a week where Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) share their service with others. Last year I gave two presentations on my service in Senegal. In case you are unfamiliar with that country, Senegal is in West Africa.
I was initially place in Matam, then moved south of Kaolack for the last few months of my 2-year stint. If you are interested you can see my PPT presentation here in PDF format:
Having been a part of these three organizations, I believe there is much more in the way of positive and constructive interaction that could be done. Perhaps like this:
The Peace Corps could serve as a training ground for new Extension agents and specialists here in the U.S. A program similar to those that already exist could be done with universities to engage graduating seniors who are leaving for the Peace Corps to further their education by doing a Masters degree (or partial fulfillment) while overseas. Once they return, they could then be integrated into the Extension service system. Another option is for Extension to actively recruit returning Peace Corps volunteers. From experience I know these people are very suited for Extension work. They have lived and breathed outreach for 2 plus years. It is difficult to imagine a better training ground for the kind of work Extension performs here. This is where eXtension could also play a role — they could provide the infrastructure to implement mentoring and education programs by pairing Peace Corps volunteers and active Extension personnel. As an RPCV myself this is something I would be happy to participate in — and I’m sure others out there would feel the same.
There is often a perception that Peace Corps is not hard work, that it is 2 years of “finding oneself”. The latter may be true for some, but the former is certainly not true. It is 24-hour a day work. There is never a break from being in another culture, trying to communicate in another language, eating sometimes strange food, feeling ill, and dealing with elements far outside the U.S. norm (diseases like malaria, oppressive heat with no air conditioning, water that is questionably potable, no toilet paper, no showers and no hot water, etc.). If one takes on the opportunity of being a Peace Corps volunteer it will change that persons life. It certainly did mine. I reflect often on my service and use elements from it every day. It is a life-altering experience that not many have the opportunity to pursue. The funding for Peace Corps is small but leads to big results.
That is the reason I think a partnership between university Extension, eXtension, and the Peace Corps could work. Every one of those organizations would benefit substantially. Of course there are obstacles to it happening and strong leadership would need to put it together. But why not? We would all benefit from a partnership like this — Extension would get well-trained employees, eXtension would further their mission of extending knowledge and changing lives, and the Peace Corps would gain better prepared and more successful volunteers as well as gaining the perception of being involved in job training. Win, win, win.