In an earlier Blog, I wrote about the 3 Peace Corps projects currently in place here in Vanuatu: Health, Education, and Business…also known as the PEACE (Provincial Economic and Community Empowerment) Project. This is the project to which I’ve been assigned. We PEACE volunteers work in any number of areas ranging from working with existing organizations to increase capacity; or conducting workshops on basic business concepts; to working with the National Bank of Vanuatu to promote their micro finance program – and everything else in between that might apply to “business”.
The Peace Corps has assessed the needs of the country and after careful deliberation has decided to discontinue its PEACE Project and instead focus its future efforts on basic literacy within their Education program, and continue its focus on community health efforts. Although some Peace Corps Volunteers reacted with alarm and dismay at this announcement, I and several other Volunteers in Group 23 (my group of volunteers) actually wholeheartedly support this approach. What you say…you want to see the program you’re participating in come to an end? In short, yes…I think it is the right approach on so many different levels.
I have only been in Vanuatu for six short months and during that time have visited just two of its 83 islands – so I am far from being an expert on the intricacies of either its short-term or long-term needs to work towards economic independence. However, I can say that simply from my short time “in country”, I have grave misgivings about pushing too hard towards business development, generation of cash flow, and modernization of Vanuatu’s culture and lifestyle.
The Ni-Vanuatu people have a wonderfully intact village lifestyle that seems to operate pretty well with local chiefs and economies. Oh no, almost none of the villages outside of Port Vila on Efate and Luganville on Santo have modern day conveniences like 24-hour electricity, indoor plumbing or even gas stoves…and at first glance when we go into a village we are somewhat shocked at the primitive lifestyle. But on the other hand, they have absolutely everything they need and seem to be quite relaxed, contented, and happy with the way things are. They don’t have to worry about having money to pay the utility bill, buying a flat screen TV, getting their kids IPods, or what kind of hardwoods they’re going to put in their homes. They have land free and clear, homes with no mortgages, and all the fresh, organic food they need to feed their families from their gardens. They don’t have to worry about their children being abducted…they don’t have to worry about how much petrol is going to cost to fill their gas tanks…they don’t have to keep up with Facebook or Twitter…and they really don’t give a damn or even know about American Idol or Dancing With the Stars!!
So, even though by our standards, they have a much lower standard of living…I’m here to tell you that in many ways they have an enviable lifestyle, culture, and sense of being that most of us would give anything to have. So yes…I’m supportive of pulling out Business volunteers…and instead focusing on providing basic literacy assistance and basic health education and support to ensure that they have future generations who can read, write, and know the basics of safeguarding their health…and their culture.
We current Business volunteers will be supported in our efforts and if our project merits additional effort, we can apply for an extension of our two-year service to complete our work here. I’m proud to continue what I’m working on, but also support the decision that future efforts here in this beautiful country will focus on basic needs to ensure that the people have what they need to prosper within their culture and have the literacy skills they need to record their history and pass it down to future generations.