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close this bookPeace Corps in Special Education and Rehabilitation (Peace Corps)
View the documentForeword
View the documentThe authors
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentMethodology
View the documentClassifying Peace Corps programs addressing the needs of disabled persons
Open this folder and view contentsSelected country reviews
close this folderCritical factors influencing the effectiveness of Peace Corps' efforts in special education and rehabilitation
View the document1.0 Programming factors
View the document2.0 Recruitment factors
View the document3.0 Training factors
View the document4.0 Support factors
View the document5.0 Post-service factors
View the documentAlternative programming considerations
View the documentReferences
View the documentAppendix I - Country overviews
View the documentAppendix II - Volunteers with disabilities: experiences, issues, and recommendations
View the documentAppendix III - Peace Corps country survey
View the documentAppendix IV - Returned volunteer survey

1.0 Programming factors

As the Peace Corps has developed and matured over the years, the agency has naturally evolved more sophisticated ways of carrying out its missions. In earlier years, Peace Corps assignments were made on an "order-taking" basis. Host country leaders gave Peace Corps staff members a shopping list of personnel needs, and the Peace Corps recruited the volunteers with those skills. The process was primarily a reactive one on the part of Peace Corps staff. In the latter half of the 1970s, Peace Corps began a more proactive process of programming volunteer assignments, special project areas, and comprehensive country programs. In other words, Peace Corps sharpened the focus of its activities and created more systematic planning efforts.

The Peace Corps defines programming as an interactive process carried out by representatives of the Peace Corps and representatives of the host country in order to conceptualize and plan Peace Corps projects and individual volunteer assignments. The host country representatives may include government agency personnel, private sector personnel, and in some cases, the citizens whose lives may be affected by the activity. On the Peace Corps side, programming is the responsibility of the country director and associate directors, with some assistance and involvement of Peace Corps staff in Washington. Selected Peace Corps Volunteers may also be significantly involved in the programming efforts, but this is seldom their major responsibility.

In the special education and rehabilitation field, it appears that some of the earlier volunteer activity came about as a result of the "non-matrixed spouse" assignments. This term was formerly used by the Peace Corps to describe the spouse of a person recruited as the primary volunteer. For example, if a married man was selected as a Peace Corps agronomist and sent to Colombia, the Peace Corps might find a job for his wife in the local school for retarded children as a "non-matrixed spouse". These positions were initially developed as a kind of "make work" and few people were concerned about the significance of the assignments. Such placements, however, were often quite successful and highly valued by the host agencies and citizens of the community. As a result, the Peace Corps staff in many countries began to develop more systematic projects in special education and rehabilitation. By 1981 many of these had grown into sizeable program areas.

At this time, most of the programming in special education and rehabilitation appears to be quite deliberate and the majority of Peace Corps countries have at least a few assignments and projects dealing with disabled persons. Those countries which have the most extensive and successful programming are the ones in which Peace Corps staff have taken an active role in the systematic planning of projects and programs. Colombia, for example, has had a five-year plan in special education and rehabilitation. Within that plan there have been several projects, each with a sizeable number of volunteers and each enjoying varying degrees of success. The Philippines also has a large program with several different project areas. One of the most interesting is a deaf education project which is using specially trained volunteers, most of whom are themselves deaf. This is an extraordinary and commendable experiment in Peace Corps programming and it demonstrates the extensive latitude and responsibility of Peace Corps staff.

1.1 Peace Corps Staff Awareness of Disability-Related Programming

Critical Factor: The level of knowledge and awareness of Peace Corps staff about sound developmental principles for disability-related programming

Disability-related programming has had remarkably varied degrees of interest and support from Peace Corps staff. During the period when Peace Corps was struggling to define criteria for a basic human needs policy, such programming had a very ambiguous status. Country directors and associate directors are often not very knowledgeable about disability and it is not surprising that they often see projects to train the handicapped to be "less developmental" than agriculture or small industry development.

While it is true that much work with the handicapped is only simple charity, there is also the potential to apply sound human development and economic development principles to improve the quality of life of the disabled and to prevent the occurrence of disabling conditions. It is important to recognize that there are useful models for the systematic improvement of opportunities and services to disabled citizens which Peace Corps should utilize early in its programming efforts.

Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:

• Peace Corps should prepare a basic orientation package of materials about disability related programming for in-country staff;

• Peace Corps should develop a strategy by which each new country director receives an orientation to disability-related programming;

• APCDs in countries which have especially active disability-related programming (Class IV Programming) should be encouraged to write brief papers about their programming experiences to be circulated widely to other APCDs;

• Peace Corps should hold regional staff training courses on disability-related programming using such materials as the new WHO manuals on community rehabilitation as a starting point.

1.2 Host Country Participation in Programming Decisions

Critical Factor: Identifying the most appropriate host country persons to collaborate with Peace Corps staff to plan disability-related programs

Peace Corps staff have an especially difficult task in identifying and gaining the cooperation of host country leaders to conceptualize and plan Peace Corps projects. In special education and rehabilitation, it is unusual to find high-level government personnel in the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Health who have a broad knowledge of disability and a strong sense of future direction. The most knowledgeable leaders in special education and rehabilitation are generally found in the individual organizations and agencies serving the disabled. The key leaders of these agencies and organizations are often very well educated, widely traveled and articulate. Many of them have received training outside their own countries and have resumed home to confront the critical problems of disability. The Peace Corps staff may find that deciding who to talk to will be the first critical programming decision to be made.

Individual leaders or program directors may sometimes try to "comer the market" on Peace Corps Volunteers, so it is important that Peace Corps staff solicit a broad range of opinion before engaging in detailed program planning with a few people. Most international organizations dealing with disability find the problem of knowing where to cast one's fate, in terms of deciding who to work with on a project, is the single most important decision they make.

A typical developing country in Latin America, for example, may have an infrastructure of programs and agencies resembling the following. Within the government, the Ministry of Health has hospitals or other acute care facilities to deal with the medical aspects of rehabilitation caused by disabilities resulting from automobile accidents, industrial injuries, perinatal problems, and diseases. These medical programs typically have a great need for physical therapists, occupational therapists, rehabilitation nurses, and other health-related specialists to assist with acute care problems. There may also be a small-sized public health sector providing immunizations, maternal and child care programs, and campaigns to improve hygiene and sanitation. These efforts serve to prevent disability but are rarely very comprehensive.

In the educational sector, there may be a small office in the Ministry of Education to deal with special education needs. The higher the physical quality of life index (PQLI), the more likely A country is to have a governmental commitment to special education. In general, government efforts in special education are preceded by private sector programs. The oldest programs for the disabled typically originated through church-related charity organizations. The Salvation Army may operate a school for the blind and an order of nuns, a school for the deaf. Other civic groups such as a Rotary Club may sponsor a vocational workshop for retarded boys. In the past twenty years or so, many parent groups or sometimes a wealthy individual with a handicapped child have started schools or workshops for some disability group such as children with behavior disorders. Since there are not likely to be many professional training opportunities in-country (except for physicians), the key staff of all these programs have usually received training in other countries. There may also be one or two small private, profit-making schools for the "problem children" of wealthier families. In summary, a new Peace Corps staff member will see a wide range of disconnected efforts to help specific disabled groups and wonder where, in such an infrastructure, the Peace Corps could make an appropriate contribution.

The above programs probably reach less than 5-10 percent of the population in need of specialized services due to disability. Among the people concerned with disability in this hypothetical country, there are usually a handful who have a broad awareness of the scope of disability and who also have a sense of direction about appropriate future trends to develop services and opportunities. Peace Corps programmers must seek to identify those people who have the best grasp on the problems of disability to participate in the planning process.

Effective counterpart training must be carefully planned early on in the planning process. Successful counterpart training occurred in Brazil where teacher training was the primary target of the special education program. One speech pathologist in the program trained a total of nine counterparts. The same volunteer worked full time in one APAE and part time in three others. Selection of counterparts was made by directors/supervisors with the volunteer's collaboration and approval. The use of special education "consultants" who concentrated their efforts on training, aided the long term goals of the program and increased the multiplier effect of their work.

Numerous former volunteers from another Latin American country, however, report that they frequently worked providing direct services with no counterpart host country personnel to train. In addition, some also felt that productive activities initiated by volunteers were allowed to wither after volunteers terminated their service. These problems, which are common throughout the Peace Corps, seem to have resulted in greater dissatisfaction on the part of these volunteers because of their higher expectations for systematic cooperation and tight organization.

Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:

• Take time to identify the host country persons to participate in host country programming. A hasty decision or commitment in this task can hinder Peace Corps programming for years to come.

• Do not assume that any one ministry, agency, or organization can serve as an umbrella for all disability-related concerns in the country or region. This is almost never the case.

• As time permits, APCDs should have a series of interviews with key leaders before a decision is made on the programming process. The APCD should write brief one-page summaries of such interviews for the benefit of future staff. The interviewers might involve representatives of government (Health, Education, Welfare agencies), representatives of various private sector programs, and by all means, some disabled persons or parents of children with disabilities who are actively involved in the disability movement.

• Insure that any disability programming group selected be established on an ad hoc basis for a temporary time period. It is easier to continue a good planning group than to disband an ineffective one.

• Be aware that any existing group, such as a national council for the disabled, will possibly be embroiled in internal organizational or political hassles. This could be true anywhere. Asking such a group to take responsibility for Peace Corps programming invites unnecessary problems. Instead, invite one or two especially effective members to participate on the ad hoc planning committee.

• Make sure that members of the planning committee receive formal letters of thanks from the country director. Some host country leaders report feeling unappreciated in their efforts to help Peace Corps staff program effectively.

1.3 Inter-Agency Dynamics

Critical Factor: Recognition and consideration of host country inter-agency dynamics

Organizations and agencies that work with the disabled are extremely competitive with each other and oftentimes engage in a kind of "organizational warfare" with each other. Peace Corps staff and others who are unfamiliar with the disability field are usually surprised to discover the antipathy that exists between organizations, their leaders, and even disabled people themselves.

There are several reasons for this phenomenon and Peace Corps programmers should be fully aware of the dynamics before calling together representatives of a number of organizations to plan a new project. First of all, the various organizations typically compete for the relatively small amount of funds available to support their program. They may compete for government grants, foundation funds, fundraising events, and even for the attention of Peace Corps staff.

Secondly, the organizations have had to compete for staff members, volunteers, and for members of boards of direction. Third, many of the agencies and organizations may have differing theoretical or philosophical points of view about the treatment of disabled persons. In the field of deafness, for example, there is a virtual war between those who advocate the oral method of deaf education versus those who advocate manual or total communication approaches. Different schools or programs working with the same kinds of disabilities may be quite divided along professional treatment models. Outsiders usually underestimate the intensity of these disagreements.

Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:

• Recognize that successful leaders of programs for the disabled are often as hard-driving, manipulative, and opinionated as the toughest businessperson. They may also be gentle and loving but their programs did not develop into their present form without considerable struggle. Outsiders often expect such leaders to be less aggressive and more appreciative of assistance than they might first appear. Most have experienced a long history of broken promises.

• Recognize that concentrating Peace Corps assistance on one disability, one agency, or one sector (e.g. private special education) may cause some destructive side-effects such as increasing rivalry, charges of favoritism, and general loss of goodwill.

• Be very careful about changing volunteers' assignments. Changes should not be made lightly and volunteers should never have the only input into such a decision. Any changes should be negotiated between the host agencies, Peace Corps staff and the volunteer. This principle appears to be frequently overlooked.

1.4 Realistic Problem Definition, Needs Assessment, and Project Goal Setting

Critical Factor: The processes and resources used by Peace Corps staff and host country personnel in problem definition, needs assessment, and project goal setting

The problems of disability in developing countries are so great that it is difficult for Peace Corps staff to know where to begin programming. Asking country leaders about their major program needs is apt to elicit the response "We need everything-what can Peace Corps offer us?"

Any given Peace Corps country will have at least 10-15 percent of its population seriously disabled. This number will include people with reaming problems (mental retardation and specific learning problems), people with speech and hearing problems (deafness, hearing impairments, speech impediments, etc.), people with seeing problems (blindness and visual impairments), people with mobility problems (paraplegia, polio, amputations, skeletal and muscular conditions), people with behavior problems (mental illness, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, delinquent behavior), and people with multiple problems (cerebral palsy, brain injury, stroke, rubella, etc.).

In high PQLI countries, host country expertise in special education and rehabilitation is usually fairly advanced. In fact, Costa Rica provides the opportunity for Peace Corps Volunteers to develop creative ideas in special education that can be brought back to the United States. The reviewers believe that Costa Rica is one of the few Peace Corps countries that can really be a "two-way street" in terms of sharing technical and program materials relating to disabled persons. Due to Costa Rica's more developed infrastructure, it is important that experienced special educators be programmed for the Ministry of Education's expressed needs (i.e. Peace Corps Volunteers with teacher training and supervisory skills.)

In countries where infrastructure is more limited, some of the most critical needs are in the area of diagnostic services. In Ghana, for example, the Home and School for Retarded Children is the only special education facility available to non-wealthy families, aside from a very small school in Kumasi which can only provide services to ten students. There is a waiting list of approximately 200 children to get into the Home and School, all of whom have been referred from the Resource Center. Volunteers found that many children in the school were misdiagnosed. Rather than mentally retarded, a child might be language delayed or a slow learner who could be integrated into the normal school system. Problems resulting from misdiagnosis as well as the common refusal on the part of a parent to put the child in a regular school usually include regression: children tend to imitate the behavior of other children and it is typically observed that a child with mild retardation will pick up the habits and take on the behaviors of more severely retarded or psychiatric children. The volunteers found that many of the children in the school had severe emotional problems rather than mental retardation or speech impairment. Improved diagnostic methods are critically needed.

Considerations, Suggestions and Recommendations

• Have a planning process in place before actually beginning to make decisions about disability-related projects. Peace Corps and A.I.D. as well as others have developed considerable expertise in the process of planning. Use it.

• Do not assume that there has never been a needs assessment study of the disabled in your area. Careful inquiry may turn up an International Year of the Child report, a UNICEF study, obscure government reports, A.I.D. studies, and international organization reports on various aspects of disability.

• At the very minimum, read the Charter for the 80s and the introduction to the WHO manual on Training the Disabled in the Community. Check with ICE and the Peace Corps sector specialist, OPTC, for in-house experience, and up-to-date information on resources.

• If there is absolutely no good information available on disability problems, needs, or goals in a given Peace Corps area, consider having Peace Corps Volunteers participate in a project to create such information in cooperation with a national council, government agency, or international organization (See the Seychelles study, Nous Bane Zanfans, coordinated by Peace Corps Volunteers). This may have a greater long-term influence than anything else that is done.

1.5 Political and Social Climate

Critical Factor: The political and social climate of the host country

Peace Corps Volunteers work in countries with great disparities in the quality of life of their citizens. The turmoil of social and political life in some of these countries often has a detrimental effect on the performance of Peace Corps Volunteers, particularly for those who work in large urban areas.

Since much of Peace Corps' programming in special eduction and rehabilitation is near urban areas, the safety of volunteers in some countries in jeopardized. Kingston, Jamaica, for example, has been an especially difficult place for Peace Corps Volunteers during the past few years. Volunteers have been burglarized, assaulted, and subjected to frequent verbal abuse on numerous occasions. Several resigned from service and others asked to be transferred to other parts of Jamaica. Peace Corps staff could do little to help the volunteers short of transferring them or commiserating with them.

Parts of Colombia have also proven hazardous to volunteers, as a result of the general problem of drug trafficking. Since many U.S. citizens come to Colombia to deal in drugs, it is natural for host country nationals to suspect Peace Corps Volunteers of being part of this criminal activity.

The nature of developing countries is such that volunteers are naturally somewhat at risk. There is no way to guarantee secure lifestyles for volunteers, but general security considerations should be an important part of all programming decisions. (The author of this section, having endured three burglaries in the past ten months, acknowledges that life in Washington, D.C. may be as hazardous as in any Third World city.)

Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:

• Be aware that in large urban areas, programs for disabled people tend to be in poor areas of the city and that Peace Corps Volunteers working in such programs are, more often than not, women. Housing and transportation needs should be settled before final placement. Often, host country personnel who work in programs for the handicapped are daughters of well-to-do families who continue to live at home and have private transportation.

• When programming is being negotiated with agencies in high risk areas, consider the possibility of the agency taking some responsibility for transportation needs or for finding appropriate housing for the volunteer as a condition of employment. It appears that too many volunteers are simply left to their own devices in rather high risk situations. (See training recommendations.)

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