Thursday, April 30, 2009

Returned PCRVs

A returned Peace Corps volunteer is an RPCV – a Peace Corps Response Volunteer is a PCRV – but I don’t think a returned Peace Corps Response Volunteer is an RPCRV. At any rate, I know two of them so I decided to contact them while I was still evaluating the decision.

Motasim (his Moroccan nickname), my predecessor (he now works for USAID) did disaster preparedness training in the Caribbean (at one point in his service he sent photos of his building under several feet of water from a hurricane! Dean, I think it was. So he had a chance to see how effective he was!). He said he couldn’t recommend it or not recommend it, but he was glad he did it. To him, it was like Peace Corps without PST (pre-service training) – good experience and good for cultural exchange. And that six months was just long enough to arrive, settle down, get ready to go again, and then leave. He was glad he did it because he had a chance to get to know people from a different culture. Okay, not the most ringing endorsement but what he said about no PST was an aha moment – I liked training, and I would do Peace Corps again, but the thought of going through training again seems daunting (in fact, there was a trainee in the most recent group in Azrou who was on her second tour, and she remarked that she had forgotten what a grind training can be). Training – homestay – finding and furnishing the apartment – tutoring – I wouldn’t have to do any of that. I think that’s when it really clicked that I was going to do this.

The other volunteer, one of Katie’s friends, had done Peace Corps Response in Namibia – she did a little travel after COS and was off to Namibia almost right away, it seemed. She’s going to graduate school in the fall so this was a chance to get more international experience. She was glad she did it as well, though it was challenging in ways she didn’t expect. She cautioned me to research the NGO well. She said that some of the other PCRVs there went home after a few weeks because their NGO wasn’t well-organized. She also said she didn’t realize how much she missed having her own place – she was in the offices of the NGO she worked with. Hmm – while I feel good about HFHP since it’s global brand name (if nothing else!), I too am sharing facilities. I think of it as part of the experience, but it was interesting that she mentioned it. She also said that she was commuting between two cities 700 miles apart – I don’t see myself doing that. Anyway, nothing she said made me think twice about going, and both she and Motasim congratulated me when I told them I had decided to take it.

In between hearing back from him and from her, I heard from my former warden, who now works for Peace Corps in Washington, putting together the packages of communications that go out to invitees. Coincidence that he called me that very evening? I think not. I didn’t have a chance to see him when I was in Washington last month (wow, was it only last month?) but I hope to see him next time. He told me he thought it was a great idea to go, that it would position me for working at Peace Corps when I get back, and that he would put in a good word for me when I do. He thought I should be a Country Desk Manager; no openings for that right now but there will be in six months. He was so positive about it that it counteracted any cautionary tales from the other two. He also put me in touch with the Country Desk Manager for the Philippines, who said that volunteers coming back from the Philippines are almost universally glowing about their experience and about the country. Check out!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More on the Assignment

This is what was posted to the Peace Corps Response web site under open positions:

The Habitat for Humanity Foundation, Inc. (HFHP) is requesting one Peace Corps Response volunteer to develop and implement a marketing plan targeting potential overseas donors, which will support HFHP’s existing resource mobilization system. The PCRV will be responsible for analyzing and identifying resource mobilization strategies of global, regional and development partners; reviewing HFHP’s overall program implementation and accomplishments; developing and implementing an overseas marketing strategy for HFHP; establishing systems for communication with prospective and existing donors; developing new online and offline marketing support packages and materials; conducting an orientation/briefing for key HFHP staff upon completion of the project; and developing a fundraising proposal template with the objective of generating new partnerships.

I expressed interest based that and a list of qualifications (most of which I had). I then got a more detailed job description to review before the interview (this is excerpted and paraphrased from that):

The Philippines has a housing backlog of nearly four million homes, and culturally, no Filipino considers himself out of poverty unless he has a home of his own. Habitat for Humanity builds affordable houses and makes them available to families at no profit. The homeowners’ mortgage payments go into a fund that can be used to build more houses. Each homeowner must assist in the building of his/her home and then to contribute to Habitat once he has his/her home by helping others. This promotes pride and dignity, reinforces community relationships, and makes the program sustainable. Homes are built for the poorest 30 percent of the population, those displaced by disasters, and victims of conflicts. Habitat for Humanity Philippines looks for partners who help build houses, help implement community development programs, make donations, are corporate partners, or become advocates. A recent initiative is Friends of Habitat, which is mostly locally-based. The organization wants to tap overseas resources, which is one of the main things I would be working on. There’s a nice web site - - so they (if you’ll excuse the pun) have a solid foundation already!

Habitat for Humanity Philippines was established in 1988 and has built more than 24,000 homes to date, in more than 130 communities. It endeavors to build 5000 new homes every year (now compare that to the four million backlog!). Its four program areas are:
1 – Urban Renewal – “Habitat takes urban housing to the next level.”
2 – Disaster Risk Mitigation – “Rebuilding lives.”
3 – Peace Build – “Building for peace and development.”
4 – Regular Program – “No more slums.”
For this project, the overall aim is to tap overseas philanthropic individuals and organizations and mobilize them for fund support. I would design and implement a marketing plan targeting overseas donors, identifying possible funding networks and identifying specific online and offline marketing materials and support packages. I’d establish a system for communications with prospective and existing donors and develop a fundraising template.

I would start with a four-week immersion program in Habitat for Humanity operations (after a three-day orientation at Peace Corps Philippines). I’ll be based at the Habitat Building and Resource Center in Taguig City (in Metro Manila), a four-level office building with accommodation for select visiting overseas volunteers. I’ll also be going to the HFHP (may as well start using the acronym) national office in Makati City, also part of Metro Manila – next city over, I think), and I’m expected to take public transportation to get there. If I visit a project site, I’ll have an apartment or host family to stay with.

My immediate supervisor will be the Stakeholder Relations Director, whom I would report to at least weekly, by phone or in person. I also report to the Peace Corps Country Director and have to abide by all of the Peace Corps policies. I have to submit monthly work plans and progress reports along with a final report and debriefing for HFHP and a Final Report, Final Evaluation, Partner Evaluation and Description of Service for Peace Corps (I almost feel I should start on those now!).

Living conditions: I’ll have a separate room, bed, basic utilities (electricity and running water) and access to a common condition and bathroom. Dress: regular casual dress at the office or communities, business casual when attending meetings. Regular casual includes plains simple pants, skirts and shirts, while business casual means long or short sleeves, polo shirts, pants and skirts, and maybe a coat or blazer. Safety and Security: Flashy jewelry is discouraged when going into the community (note that the communities I would visit have organized community associations and community police officers), safe to go out alone during the day but advised to have a companion at night, petty crimes brought about by poverty and unemployment do occur. Natural disasters such as typhoons are a regular occurrence; precautionary measures and reminders will be provided.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Six Weeks from Tomorrow?

So how do I feel now that I’ve had a few days to live with the decision? I haven’t had any second thoughts – I’m excited about the opportunity. It’s funny – my initial reaction was that maybe after this I’ll just live in the United States when I get back – and at the same time I was getting emails from people saying that maybe international development is my calling. I was sending a lot of resumes in that direction and did have another interview – but all of a sudden domestic non-profits have started to look more interesting. We’ll see, of course – maybe what I would really like is to base myself here and go abroad for work (and, of course, fun) occasionally. But first, let’s do this!

Now that I’m not sending out resumes, I don’t feel any less busy. I want to read up on the Philippines (I didn’t read that much on Morocco beforehand because I figured I would be taking the books along with me – plus we had all of that training before we were really out on our own), I want to write up my post-service trip and more here, I have a class and an independent study to work on, I have a week where I’ll be going through my storage space in Chicago, and I have a bunch of other things on my list should I get everything else done. I have to figure out what to bring – and what of that I already have vs. what I have to shop for.

And I do want to have some fun. This weekend the weather was summer-like – finally a day where I wanted to spend a good part of it outside. When I get back it will be winter again! In New York the trees were in bloom and it seemed as though everyone in Manhattan was out in Central Park. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to see friends before I go, but I’d like to do some of that too! Though six weeks will go by quickly, I’m trying not to feel stressed about it! If I look at it in chunks – two weeks until I go to Chicago, almost two weeks in Chicago, two weeks after I get back from Chicago – I am not sure whether that makes it seem like more time or less.

And the Peace Corps screening nurse just called me. I hit a magic age so I need some additional tests before I go…

Friday, April 24, 2009

More About Peace Corps Response

Things are moving along – after I told Peace Corps I was going, I told a bunch of friends – which means I’m really doing it! I downloaded the Peace Corps Philippines Welcome Book and printed it out – after I read it I will share some interesting tidbits here. But first – medical clearance. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire and rode the bike into town to fax it today. For Peace Corps, you have to be through medical and legal clearance before you get an invitation, but for Peace Corps Response, my official invitation is on its way to me FedEx and the medical clearance happens in a streamlined manner due to the quick turnaround required for me to leave on June 7. That's pretty typical - they try to have volunteers in the field 8-10 weeks after a position is posted. I did have a full physical when I left Morocco, including some of the tests required, and I had another checkup when I got to Chicago in March, and I passed both of those. I have a dentist appointment and a doctor appointment already scheduled for my May visit to Chicago, so I should be able to get dental X-rays and any required forms filled out in time. I did have an eye issue when I left Morocco and had my eyes examined in New York a couple of weeks ago; was told to stay the course – and I read that a vision check isn’t required for Peace Corps Response, so again I should be okay. All the same, I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I couldn’t wait until the clearance was finished to tell people. As it was I felt I was keeping things from people during the week I was weighing the offer; I guess people always ask what you’re up to and how you’re doing but it seemed as though a lot of people asked that last week!

Anyway – more about Peace Corps Response, from It used to be called Crisis Corps and was created in 1995 to allow former Peace Corps volunteers to provide short-term assistance during natural disasters and humanitarian crises. The first assignment took people to Antigua after Hurricane Luis. The name was changed in 2007 to broaden the scope and skills of the program. Crisis Corps is still a part of it, for disaster relief (in fact, they sent over 250 Crisis Corps Volunteers to the Gulf Coast after Katrina, their first domestic deployment; 74 went to Thailand and Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami). There’s a press release on the name/focus change at (I’m linking to it as much for me as for you, so I can refer back to it – the Peace Corps Response part of the web site doesn’t include this background). Even with the name change, they try for a quick turnaround, with eight to ten weeks from the time a position is posted until they leave. Medical clearance comes after the invitation (as opposed to before, for regular Peace Corps nominees, and then the invitation comes after the clearance) and is expedited.

Peace Corps Response Volunteers (PCRVs – yes, a new acronym!) work in five main areas: humanitarian assistance, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster relief and reconstruction, disaster preparedness and mitigation, post-conflict relief and reconstruction (I guess mine counts as humanitarian assistance?). Since its inception as Crisis Corps, more than 1000 volunteers have served in over 40 countries, in Latin America, Africa, the Pacific, Asia and Eastern Europe. You can go to for more, including recent projects and FAQs. But I hope to answer any questions that you might have here!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On the road again...

I finished my Peace Corps service in November, traveled until March, and since then have been sending out resumes, networking, reading, writing, exercising, healthy eating and so on. I like to say I was casting a wide net, both job-wise and location-wise – exploring lots of options, most of them non-profit and government, with a focus on international development but not to the exclusion of other things that might look interesting.

I’ve said all along that my first choice would be working for Peace Corps – I believe in the mission and had such a good experience as a volunteer – and whether or not it I end up there, it’s a good answer to the question. So the Peace Corps web site was the first place I went when I finally got down to it.

I also decided to sign up for Peace Corps Response – a program of Peace Corps that places returned volunteers in short-term highly-specialized assignments. My predecessor in Morocco had done this and so had another Morocco volunteer I know. I thought maybe if I got frustrated with job-hunting there might be something interesting there.

I checked back frequently for job postings and occasionally for Peace Corps Response postings and a couple of weeks ago a new posting leaped out at me – Resource Development and Marketing Strategist for Habitat for Humanity, Philippines. I tried to apply right away but once you have uploaded your profile you can’t just press a link every time you want to submit it for a position. So I waited until the following Monday and emailed them to ask how I can do it – upload every time? The recruiter said she’d look at the resume on file and take a look. Then I got an email from her saying that she wanted to interview me and including a more detailed job description, which made the job sound even more interesting. Tuesday she interviewed me, and I was even more excited about it. She asked for references and I said I wanted to check with them first before giving their names to her. I sent her names on Wednesday morning and within minutes both of my references had gotten emails from her. By the end of the day I had an offer!

She had said she’d let me know by the end of the week, so I wasn’t prepared for an offer on Wednesday. My inclination was to take it, but first, I spent some time going back and forth, talking to friends, writing down pros and cons, asking myself questions, letting it go and seeing if I would have regrets, embracing it and seeing if I would have regrets, emailing my Bangkok friend who had been Country Director there, emailing my predecessor about how he viewed his experience, reading about the Philippines in my Rough Guide to Southeast Asia book and on the internet, looking at Peace Corps Philippines blogs (something I did not do before going to Morocco)….

Some of the pros: a way to help people, good for my resume, Habitat a global brand, another culture and part of the world (I loved my trip to Southeast Asia, though I did not get to the Philippines – or, to be honest, realize how close I was to them until I got there and looked at a map), my stuff is still in storage so it’s easier to do this now than later, it’s only six months, in this economy I could be looking for another six months anyway. Some of the cons: another volunteer job when I thought I was looking for a paying one, hard to leave friends and family I am just reconnecting with. Lists aside, I was trying to go with my gut on it and overthinking it at the same time – but all the time leaning towards yes.

It leaves soon! Currently scheduled for June 7. But not before I have another class in my non-profit management certificate program (I also proposed an independent study to replace the cancelled class I tried to take this spring – if that gets approved I can work on that and finish the certificate before I go), go through my storage space with a professional organizer (this has been on my mind since about six months into my service) and go to Reunions! I have medical and legal clearance to go through also.

I said yes today.

(c) 2009 the author