Memorializing Peace Corps Volunteers by Michael Quinn Patton

I’m Michael Quinn Patton (MQP) founder and director of Utilization-Focused Evaluation and Blue Marble Evaluation. This is my sixth year writing an AEA365 post in conjunction with the Memorial Day holiday in the USA.

Memorial Day traditionally honors those who died while serving in the military. Originated in the years following the Civil War, it became an official U.S. holiday in 1971. My parents volunteered for the Army during World War II where they met and married.  My father was active in veterans organizations; having learned to play the trumpet, I spent every Memorial Day of my youth playing taps at ceremonies in military cemeteries.  In college I was in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), but faced with being drafted during the Vietnam War, I joined the Peace Corps.  I devote this Memorial Day post to honoring those who have died in service of peace. I salute all who have died in humanitarian service anywhere and everywhere, including the many health care and essential workers who have succumbed to Covid-19.  In this specific post, I memorialize Peace Corps volunteers who died in service. First, some context.  

The Impact of Peace Corps Service

Over nearly five decades of professional evaluation engagement, I’ve met a great many evaluators who were Peace Corps volunteers. Every former volunteer I’ve met has shared the profound impact Peace Corps service had on their lives, as it did on mine.  

I served in 1967-1969 in eastern Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) working in agricultural extension among the Gourma people where farmers engaged in subsistence agriculture. There were no formal assignments or roles for us to fulfill.  Those to whom we were assigned were confused about why we were there and what to do with us.  So we had to figure it out together.

We began by talking with villagers, listening to their stories, gathering their histories, learning about their experiences, and working to understand their perspectives. Gradually as we learned the language, engaged with the people, and began to understand the local setting, project possibilities emerged: digging wells, building one-room schools, introducing new crop varieties, experimenting with new approaches to cultivation, organizing cooperatives, and initiating farm schools. In the grand scheme of things, our efforts were very modest.

I learned how to figure out what someone cared about, how to bring people together to identify shared interests, and how to match initiatives and resources to those shared interests. I learned to ground my change efforts in the perspectives, values, and interests of those with whom I worked. My approach to evaluation grew out of those seminal community development experiences in Africa.

MQP and farmer Tchombiano Lamourdia
checking eggs for freshness in Fada N’Gourma, Upper Volta, 1968, temperature 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Centigrade).
MQP and farmer Tchombiano Lamourdia
checking eggs for freshness in Fada N’Gourma, Upper Volta, 1968, temperature 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Centigrade).

60 years

Peace Corps was established in 1961. 235,000 volunteers have served in 141 countries. 311 died during service from disease, accidents, and violence. When the pandemic hit, the service of more than 7,000 volunteers was abruptly ended.  Peace Corps is currently planning on reinstating service when the pandemic ends.  

Rad Resources:

Presidential candidateJohn F. Kennedy floated the idea of Peace Corps service at a rally of 10,000 students at the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960, at 2:00 am.:

National Peace Corps Association for returned volunteers:

Evaluations of Peace Corps:

Lesson Learned: 

Memorializing is remembering.Remembering matters.

Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project

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