3.0 Training factors
In most cases, the Peace Corps is able to recruit volunteers with substantial training and at least modest levels of experience in their area of work. The agency focuses its training efforts on helping the new volunteer adapt to a new culture and a new work setting with language and cross-cultural training. For special education volunteers, technical training takes place only in special projects where a number of volunteers are going to be working on a coordinated project. The Special Olympics Program in Colombia is one example of such a project.
3.1 Understanding Organizational Structures and Customs
Critical Factor: The volunteers' understanding of the host agency's organizational structure and customs influence their ability to work effectively
The special education and rehabilitation volunteers interviewed during this program assessment reported that their training was notably deficient in providing them with information about "how the system works" in their host country. Volunteers in schools, clinics, and community settings reported that inordinate amounts of time were spent discovering how to get things done within the system. Lacking this knowledge, unnecessary delays and inefficiencies in their work occurred, as well as "errors of protocol" which further complicated their assignments. Although most host country agencies have been accepting and tolerant of new Peace Corps Volunteers, it is apparent that the volunteers face unnecessary problems when they do not have enough knowledge about organizational structures and work styles appropriate to their sites.
Volunteers who are nearing completion of service and host country nationals are generally knowledgeable about local variations in acceptable work behavior. Their involvement in the training of special education and rehabilitation volunteers would have a significant impact on the level of awareness and job-readiness of Peace Corps trainees.
Considerations, Suggestions, and Recommendations:
• Arrange special training sessions for volunteers on how systems work in their host country and particularly in their employment sites. One such session should occur prior to their job placement and another after a few months on the job. Host country personnel who are accustomed to dealing with U.S. citizens would be especially appropriate as trainers, and some use of Peace Corps Volunteers nearing the end of their service would also be important.
3.2 Volunteer Expectations
Critical Factor: Volunteer expectations can directly effect the success or failure of a project
Volunteers frequently begin Peace Corps service with unrealistic expectations of the nature of their work. The source of such unrealistic expectations may lie in the personal naivete of the new volunteer or an overly optimistic program plan developed by the incountry staff and the host agency. The most destructive kinds of unrealistic expectations are those in which the volunteer expects a higher degree of cooperation, support, or attention than is likely to be available.
When the volunteer's expectations are inappropriate, there is a chance that the volunteer will be personally dissatisfied and develop a negative reaction to the project. Volunteers in Colombia, for example, typically had high expectations of the work they could accomplish. Some former volunteers reported their experience to be dismally disappointing, while their supervisors, Peace Corps staff or neutral observers described the project as highly successful. Upon examining this further, it appears that some volunteers, particularly in the Special Olympics projects, began their assignments with unrealistically high expectations of such factors as the degree of organization of the project, the amount of host country support available, and the freedom to plan and coordinate a major national program. The existence of a well-written plan apparently encouraged these expectations while not describing the fragile nature of such a large effort. Volunteers in general special education assignments with less well-defined expectations were probably better prepared for whatever difficulties they encountered.
When volunteers are involved in dialogue with training staff regarding the lack of structure and ambiguity they can expect in their assignments, they learn to anticipate what can go wrong or change and what expectations can be realistically fulfilled. In many developing countries, volunteers may find that agencies will be poorly funded, understaffed and overcrowded. The directors of the agencies may devote the majority of their time to keeping the program afloat. Volunteers will also find many programs for the handicapped to be lacking in basic equipment, materials and transportation for the clients. In addition, the agency staff may be required to deal with a wide range of problems for which they are only marginally trained to handle. Attention to these issues would be a valuable training component for volunteers.
Considerations, Suggestions and Recommendations:
• At the beginning of their terms of service, volunteers should be asked to write down some of their expectations on paper. They might divide these expectations into categories such as daily living, job expectations, community expectations, Peace Corps staff expectations, and mutual volunteer expectations. In the exercise, the volunteer should be asked to anticipate both the potential problems they can imagine in each of these areas, and also the potential rewards or positive outcomes that might result. The major point of the exercise is not the accuracy of their prediction, but rather the awareness they do bring with them, expectations which may not be clearly articulated. Periodic in-service training should include some "reality testing" of their initial expectations and some discussion of how these expectations have changed.
3.3 Special Technical Training
Critical Factor: Technical training for special education-rehabilitation volunteers is necessary
The Philippines deaf services project is a unique example of the utilization of a special comprehensive training component. In addition to eight weeks of special preservice training at Gallaudet College (involving 17 trainers, 8 consultants and 4 project personnel), special training was carried out for all volunteers and Peace Corps staff. Volunteers had the opportunity to receive training in deaf awareness and sign language. The response of volunteers to placement of deaf volunteers in their communities was very positive. Many studied sign language and requested deaf services volunteers in their host communities. The medical staff also participated in sign language and deaf awareness classes. Such training was voluntary but strongly encouraged. The training took place at the same time the deaf services trainees received their preservice training. Thus, when the trainees arrived in the Philippines, the staff was prepared to communicate with them. Additional sign language and deaf awareness training was also received. As a result, the staff is better informed, has new skills, and more awareness of the issues involved in dealing with deaf volunteers.
It is apparent that special technical training can create a more unified approach to a disabilities-related project, especially when host country citizens are also somewhat involved in the training.
Considerations, Suggestions and Recommendations:
• Peace Corps should develop a pilot training program in community rehabilitation. Since this is very new territory for all organizations, considerable technical cooperation will be needed from a variety of international experts.
• ICE and the OPTC sector specialist should begin collecting materials that might be used in a special training program on community rehabilitation. Some of these should be previewed by volunteers working in community programs in several Peace Corps countries.
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