2.0 Recruitment factors
Finding the best possible people for very demanding jobs is a continuing challenge for the Peace Corps. The constellation of personal qualities and skills needed by the applicants for Peace Corps service is rather formidable. Think for a moment about the requirements. The Peace Corps Volunteers should: 1) be skilled and experienced in their area of work; 2) be personally mature, independent, and adaptable; 3) be willing to work long hours for low pay; 4) be willing to move to a foreign country and probably speak a foreign language; 5) be willing to pull themselves out of the mainstream of their current life and career for a period of at least two years; 6) be able to apply rather sophisticated ideas of international development to the local community level; and 7) be able to accomplish this with only a modest level of training and supervision. Perhaps the most significant thing about the Peace Corps is its ability to recruit several thousand persons each year who more or less meet these demanding requirements.
Because special education and rehabilitation are "helping professions," it is not surprising that many professionals consider serving in the Peace Corps an important and natural extension of their life's work.
2.1 Personal Characteristics of Volunteers
Critical Factor: The individual personalities and inter-personal abilities of Peace Corps Volunteers
Over its twenty years of existence, the Peace Corps has expended considerable effort in determining what personal qualities are the best predictors of successful volunteers. The issue is obviously complex as there is no single kind of person who is best suited to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
In looking at special education and rehabilitation assignments, several qualities seem important. Volunteers who work with the disabled need to have a sense of humor. Without humor, being disabled or facing the plight of disabled persons on a daily basis can be a disheartening experience.
Another important quality is a respect for the abilities of disabled people. Most individuals have a degree of compassion for the disabled but they often contaminate that compassion with pity or paternalism. In community development the volunteer must look for the essential strengths in the community and build on those. In human development the volunteer must look to the essential strengths of the individual and build on those.
A third important quality is adaptability. In working with disabled persons, adaptability may be defined as the ability to adjust one's style to meet the needs of persons with wide ranges of intellectual, emotional, and physical limitations and abilities.
In the course of this study and in our previous conversations with host country supervisors, the authors found many instances where the personal characteristics and inter-personal abilities of Peace Corps Volunteers dramatically influenced the effectiveness of their work. Volunteers who are overly critical, blaming, or fault-finding are especially difficult to deal with, according to one supervisor. Volunteers who lack self-confidence frequently fall into those behavior pattems. Regardless of their technical skill level, it is difficult for these volunteers to make an effective contribution to any Peace Corps effort.
Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:
• Recruiters should weigh the personal qualities of volunteers as much as the professional or technical qualities. More volunteers appear to "fail" in disability-related assignments because of personal factors than skill factors.
• Sometimes people enter the "helping professions" because they need help themselves. People occasionally join the Peace Corps to get away from a life where coping is difficult. The combination of the two can be a special problem. The most successful special education and rehabilitation personnel should be able to articulate their basic human development philosophy, should be able to describe their motivation for joining the Peace Corps, and should be able to connect the two.
• Some programs for disabled people in the United States use community volunteers in their activities. A number of them interview applicants carefully and ask the question, "What do you want to get out of this experience for yourself?" Those people who are unable to respond or who say they "just want to help people" are usually rejected or asked to participate in special training groups.
2.2 Recruitment Resource Utilization
Critical Factor: The manner in which Peace Corps announces and recruits for disability related projects
Some assignments in the Peace Corps are inappropriately filled by persons ill suited for the work. The Peace Corps has a limited recruitment budget and it is evident that they cannot do the kind of detailed search that is often needed for the best possible placements. It would be unusual to find persons in the recruitment offices who fully understand the difference between the various specialties in the helping professions that now exist in the United States.
In the past ten years, a large number of new specialty areas such as music therapy, art therapy, therapeutic recreation, adapted physical education, inhalation therapy, and other highly specialized professions have sprung up in the graduate schools and social service agencies throughout the United States. In its work with the handicapped, the Peace Corps has traditionally selected volunteers from the fields of special education, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and social work. There is little question, however, that a better job of recruitment could be done if the Peace Corps had increased visibility at the annual meetings of the professional associations and advertised more frequently in the professional publications of these associations. In general, Peace Corps Volunteers in special education and rehabilitation need a broad range of professional skills, common sense, and good interpersonal skills. When recruitment efforts do not reach the vast majority of skilled people in the helping professions, the chances of attracting the best qualified people are limited.
In 1977, a special guide for the recruitment of Peace Corps Volunteers in special education and rehabilitation was prepared for Peace Corps by a private contractor, but in 1981 there is little evidence that those recruitment materials and information are in use. This is an example of how the lack of institutional memory coupled with inadequate information and record-keeping results in wasted effort and lost opportunity.
In general it appears that recruitment would be more successful if the Trainee Assignment Criteria sheets (TAC sheets) were prepared around the skills a person is expected to need on the job, rather than on the professional specialty assumed to encompass the skill. It is not uncommon, for example, for a special educator who has worked eight years with mentally retarded children to be assigned to a school for physically handicapped children simply because the volunteer was labeled a special educator.
Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:
• Peace Corps should find and use the recruitment materials prepared in 1977 to disseminate announcements about disability-related projects.
• Increased advertising in selected professional journals and at the annual meetings of professional organizations should result in many more Peace Corps applications. If human development services are reduced due to federal budget cut-backs, there may be a surplus of professionals in many disability related fields in the near future in the United States.
• Peace Corps should send its sector specialist to conferences to share experiences and specialized materials with other professionals in the field.
2.3 Professional Specialties, Skills, and Experience
Critical Factor: The professional specialty areas of volunteers, their skill levels, and work experience influence the effectiveness of disability-related programming
There are several dozen professional specialty areas that deal with disabilities in the United States. Some of these such as social work and physical therapy are present in many parts of the world while others such as rehabilitation counseling are mostly unique to the United States.
Some professional backgrounds appear to be more suited for Peace Corps service because they can be applied in a wider variety of service settings. Occupational therapists and social workers have broad training curriculums and their skills can be used in an institution, a community facility, or the home. Physical therapists are generally trained to work in or near medical facilities and sometimes rely on specialized equipment and devices. Speech therapists, on the other hand, may work in either a medical or community setting, but may be more troubled by language differences than other professionals.
Peace Corps tends to define assignments in terms of the professional specialty rather than describing the kinds of skills needed and wanted by the host agency. For instance, a project might need a volunteer knowledgeable about setting up screening clinics for children with developmental disabilities. Someone with these skills might be a psychologist, a public health nurse, a physician, or an early childhood educator. Since there is considerable overlap in the skills possessed by the helping professions, it would be unduly restrictive to specify only one professional specialty for such an assignment.
There is little question that practical experience and a broad repertoire of skills are more important for most Peace Corps assignments than formal academic credentials. In institutional settings, formal academic training, particularly in the health area, may be far more necessary. In recent years the Peace Corps has been fairly successful in recruiting volunteers in special education and rehabilitation with both substantial skills and practical work experience. The range and depth of these skills and experiences vary tremendously but most volunteers have been able to adjust fairly well to their job assignments.
In recent years, some countries such as Costa Rica and Jamaica have requested volunteers with higher levels of training and experience than the typical volunteers had received in the past. In those cases, the Peace Corps had partial success in recruiting mid-career professionals and retired persons who have much broader backgrounds.
In one instance, some special education volunteers in Costa Rica were too inexperienced to be very useful to the host agency. Because there are numerous highly trained special educators with extensive experience in Costa Rica, the Ministry of Education expressed a need for Peace Corps Volunteers with teacher training and supervisory experience. These skills are more scarce and volunteers more difficult to recruit.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in special education also stressed the importance of utilizing the skills of trained specialists in Brazil. Host country nationals in high PQLI countries have a preference for trained volunteers because, while an extensive infrastructure may exist, there is usually a serious deficit of qualified special education personnel. By the same token, in cases where there are host country specialists already working, there is an expectation by host country nationals that volunteers will be at least as qualified as they are. While generalist volunteers have occasionally worked successfully in Brazil, former volunteers do not recommend their recruitment.
In recent years, graduate training for educators has expanded rapidly in the United States and there are now many more Master's-level people available for Peace Corps service in fields like special education, school psychology, and counseling. Completely new specialties such as inhalation therapy and drug abuse counseling have also been developed or expanded in the past five years.
The perceived experience of volunteers may sometimes be as important a factor as experience. This was demonstrated in Ghana, where some volunteers believe that their young age (23-26) was regarded by supervisors as a negative factor. In Ghana, college students do not complete their studies until the age of 24 and are not expected to have the skills to work independently. Age is, in fact, a factor in most countries; many volunteers overcome the "stigma" of being younger than their counterparts, but not all. Training may provide the most relevant solution to this problem.
If the Peace Corps is able to develop substantial community rehabilitation programs in the near future, careful thought will have to be given to the kind of background needed in potential volunteers. Highly trained professional people in rehabilitation tend to have rather entrenched ideas about rehabilitating disabled persons and it may be that less specialized volunteers would be more appropriate for community-based assignments. With some 350 million disabled persons now living in the developing world, there will be a continued need for volunteers with extensive professional backgrounds as well as for generalists. There is no shortage of work to be done.
Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:
• For disability prevention projects, volunteers should be recruited who have backgrounds in health education, public health administration, social work, public health nursing, and early childhood education.
• For special education projects, people should be recruited with either bachelor's-level or master's-level degrees and preferably several years experience. Because university special education departments may experience severe funding cutbacks throughout the '80s, there may be numbers of doctoral-level special education teacher trainers who will consider Peace
Corps service. They may be especially valuable for countries with high PQLI ratings.
• For community rehabilitation projects, people can be recruited from all of the kinds of backgrounds previously mentioned plus those trained in environmental services such as water supply, sanitation, and traffic regulation.
• Institutional rehabilitation settings have made excellent use of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech therapists in Peace Corps projects. There are few training programs for such specialists in most developing countries.
2.4 Volunteers with Disabilities
Critical Factor: The selective use of Peace Corps Volunteers with disabilities in Peace Corps programming can have an especially dramatic effect on disability-related projects
Peace Corps has had an especially interesting and largely successful experience in recruiting people with disabilities for selected special education and rehabilitation projects. Although exact numbers are not available, the authors estimate that there have been at least 50-100 volunteers with obvious disabilities working in the Peace
Corps over the past ten years. While this number is a small percentage of the entire volunteer pool, it is significant that any disabled volunteers have been assigned at all. No other international technical assistance agency has ever used this number of skilled people, who happen to have disabilities, in their programming. Volunteers with disabilities have usually been blind, deaf, or orthopedically handicapped.
Disabled people in developing countries have very few positive role models, and disabled Peace Corps Volunteers can demonstrate by the example of ther lives, new horizons of developmental potential for host country disabled citizens.
The subject of volunteers with disabilities is discussed in more detail in Appendix II: Volunteers with Disabilities: Experiences, Issues, and Recommendations.
2.5 Time Period Between Programming and Recruiting
Critical Factor: There is often a lengthy time period between the development of a project plan and the successful recruitment and placement of Peace Corps Volunteers
As much as a year can pass between the time a project is planned and the time volunteers arrived in-country. Important changes can occur during that time and frequently the volunteer assignment has to be completely redesigned. In the course of a year, key staff may change, funds can become more difficult to obtain and the best-laid plans often go astray.
In a Caribbean country, one program director reported that a Peace Corps staff member informed her that two Peace Corps Volunteers had arrived to work on her project. The program director and a previous APCD had planned a project fourteen months prior to the volunteers' arrival. In the meantime, she had said goodbye to the APCD, restructured the project, and assumed that the recruiting efforts had been unsuccessful. This is not an uncommon experience and many Peace Corps projects in special education and rehabilitation are developed "on the spot".
Considerations, Suggestions and Recommendations:
• Peace Corps should strive to shorten the time period between program planning and the actual arrival of volunteers. A time gap of one year or more makes most planning efforts obsolete by the time the volunteer arrives.
• Peace Corps staff should take care to stay in touch with host agencies while awaiting arrival of Peace Corps Volunteers, revising plans where appropriate and keeping mutually informed.
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