The Peace Corps is an independent agency within the executive branch of the United States government. Our funding is determined by Congress each year through the typical appropriations process and amounts to only 1% of the foreign operations budget (last year it was about $379 million).
As such, Peace Corps Volunteers are asked to write several reports each year to document their projects and justify the use of the funds to the American taxpayers (hi guys!). Here in Peace Corps Morocco we write this report, called the Volunteer Reporting Form (VRF), every six months and our current reporting period ends next week.
The main goal of the VRF is to quantify our work. Which Peace Corps goal were you working towards? Which Cross Sector Programming Priorities (CSPP) did you focus on (Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, People with Disabilities, etc.)? How many participants were there? How old were they? How did you evaluate the effectiveness of this activity? What is the number of youth that demonstrated improved decision making, critical thinking and problem solving skills? How many peer educators were trained to conduct outreach to promote youth sexual and reproductive health? How many youth were tutored for the BAC English exam?
Completing the VRF accurately takes hours of tedious work and proper preparation beforehand while conducting the activities. Volunteers love to hate the VRF, but we all understand its importance in securing our funding and justifying our work around the globe.
But the majority of our work can’t be quantified on the VRF.
I recently started a Book Club at my Dar Chebab (We’re reading The Giver — so fun!). Here’s what my VRF will tell you about the project:
- Did this activity support Peace Corps Goal One? Yes.
- Did you collaborate with other Volunteers on this activity? No.
- Did this activity take place in your site? Yes.
- Participants? 2 Males (10-17), 8 Males (18-24), 2 Females (10-17), 2 Females (18-24)
- Number of youth who reported or demonstrated enhanced skill(s), asset(s) or interest(s): Total – 14, Achieved – 12
Here’s what the numbers on the VRF won’t tell you.
For 11 out of the 14 students in Book Club this is the first book they’ve ever read in English. For 6 of the students this is the first book they have ever read, period.
The students now carry around their copies of The Giver with pride, prompting other students at the Dar Chebab to ask me questions like, “What is The Giver?“, “Are you going to do another Book Club so that I can participate?”, and “Do you have another book that I can read?”
Starting the Book Club has motivated my director of the Dar Chebab and the delegue of the ministry to clean up and fix our tiny library. They have swept the floors, repaired the book shelves, and added new desks and computers to the room due to the increased interest in reading shown by the students.
Every day I now have a teenager pop into my classroom asking, “What does shivering mean?” or “What does glanced mean?” or “Why did the author write ‘that’s what I am’ instead of ‘that’s who I am'”?
There’s no place on the VRF to write that one of my students brought his book with him and read all three assigned chapters while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Or that I don’t have enough copies of the book so some students are reading a PDF copy while they sit at cyber cafes.
There’s no indicator on the VRF that can capture that students are learning how to lead discussions on their own, and for the first time in their lives they are equal partners in a club where the teacher doesn’t have all of the answers.
There’s so much that the VRF can’t capture.
But that’s Peace Corps. There’s no number that can truly measure our impact.