Last week's opinion on Peace Corps, Too Many Innocents Abroad brings up some old questions about the value of the organization.
I don't think that the article was as anti-Peace Corps as many responses I read seemed to imply. It was asking for some self-evaluation, which can't be bad.
Peace Corps isn't a development organization (and shouldn't be compared to one). What kind of organization it is...up for debate. I love it and sometimes hate it (for many of the reasons mentioned in the article). But I think its best strength is as cultural exchange organization. (Well covered in the letters that followed and the response from Senator Chris Dodd.) It will keep getting support because a lot of people, especially me, know that this is valuable. Impossilbe to measure, but also impossible to deny for anyone who had gone through it. I was so humbled by what I learned about being an "outsider" from my two years in Russia as a volunteer. It was invaluable for me, even though there are a lot of things I might want to change about the old PC. I considered leaving after a year and would have, but really thought the people I worked with valued my contribution.
As a policy suggestion, rather than just recruit more older PCVs, we need Peace Corps in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, if we could convince those governments of the value of exchange and solicit the invitations needed. Nothing would be better for "peace" than dumping some snot-nosed 25-year-olds (like I was) into a really odd situation. It would be tough to find valuable, semi-structured, sites, but I am sure there is something Americans could be good for in these well-educated countries. I still maintain that cultural exchange and cooperation on "soft" issues like the environment was key to thawing relations with the Soviets. I can't imagine it was less scary to visit Russia in early 1980s than it would be to visit Tehran today.