Yap—After five years of absence, the Peace Corps is set to return to the freely associated states, according to an announcement made by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris during a recent speech delivered virtually before the Pacific Islands Forum in Hawaii.
More than 50 years after the first Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Micronesia, the U.S. government “phased out” this revered institution in the FSM and Palau in 2017 “due to operational and infrastructure challenges in areas ranging from vast geographic distances, medical care and transportation, and recurring staff vacancies.”
Many of us who grew up with Peace Corps volunteers as our teachers and beloved members of their host families and communities were saddened by this decision.
Now, their promised return is welcomed news.
But the needs of Micronesia have changed dramatically since the first volunteers arrived in 1966. No longer are recent college graduates needed to provide classroom support, or best left to identify community projects upon their arrival.
Today, we need older, experienced professionals who can mentor government and business leaders and workers in the areas of law, government administration, fiscal management, technology, entrepreneurism, organizational development, climate change, environmental sustainability, agriculture and fisheries, modern healthcare, higher education, transportation, engineering and emergency management among others.
In short, we need mentors and partners with several years of practical experience under their belts to provide useful applications of skills and knowledge, not just offer up academic and abstract ideas.
As always, the volunteers will be well advised to learn about and respect the cultures in which they will be serving; but not adopt our culture as their own as some have attempted to do.
By this I mean, to advance our development as a state, a nation and as citizens operating in the larger world, we need professional mentors who will share best practices and personal experiences in the public and private workplace to help us identify and implement practical solutions to the economic challenges we face.
We benefited from the addition of the Peace Corps Response Volunteers program that began in 2007 and brought professionals for limited projects of three to 12 months, while the young, college-age volunteers served 27 months.
But that time commitment needs to be reversed. We need experienced professionals, perhaps retirees, or men and women who are taking time out from their careers or are given time off by their employers to serve internationally, who can be with us for no less than one to two years providing structured, goal-oriented strategic mentoring services that build essential, sustainable skills and organizations among our workforce and business community.
Among the more than 4,300 men and women who served in the region between 1966 and 2017 was a large phalanx of college graduates who provided classroom support. They were important for that time in our country’s development, but our needs have changed dramatically since then as we catch up to the larger world thanks to technological advances.
It can no longer be business-as-usual if we are to overcome the challenges that we have faced in the past as small, remote islands. With technology, we are no longer isolated.
Over the last four decades, the U.S. government, through the Compact of Free Association, has provided the resources for the FSM to succeed. However, progress has been minimal. The money, which is generously derived from American taxpayers, has too often been squandered due to a lack of oversight, strict auditing, and lack of penalties for its abuse.
Consultants who were paid handsomely arrived with large ideas and recommendations, only to fly home after their contracts ended, leaving a stack of research, proposals and plans on shelves that continue to collect dust to this day. There was no follow-up, no mentoring and no understanding of how to implement them. Despite presentations, meetings and training, nothing changed.
I respectfully ask the Peace Corps’ CEO Carol Spahn and her leadership team to meet with our leaders and citizens to determine what our pragmatic needs are today to assist us in becoming a successful part of the larger world; and then create a program that provides seasoned professionals who are given the time to follow through and help us instigate concrete, measurable organizational change, not just drop a plan on a desk and leave.
I welcome the Peace Corps back to my cherished home of Yap with open arms and look forward to witnessing the progress we make as we work together to halt the outward “brain drain” with real opportunities for achievement and success in our own country.
Henry S. Falan is the former governor of Yap. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.