Phased Out

During the two years of service for Peace Corps Volunteers, there are five critical trainings. The first is before our official service even begins, called Pre-Service Training (PST). The time frame varies a bit from country to country, but in Togo it lasts nine weeks. Once we finish PST and get past our Swear-In Ceremony we become official Volunteers and get sent to our official posts. We move up from PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees) to PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers).

Then, after three months of getting to know our new homes (“posts or sites” in Peace Corps lingo), we have a week-long In Service Training (IST). The focus of IST is to learn about the types of work opportunities for our Volunteer focus or sector. As a Small Enterprise Development (SED) Volunteer, for me that means learning how to teach business skills. IST focuses more on the practice/execution of our work than the things we learned at PST, because volunteers are now ready to benefit from the information from knowing their sites.

Another three months down the line leads to Project Design Management (PDM). This also coincides with our six month mark at post. At PDM, the focus varies, but ours was geared toward learning about new sectors. This four day training was divided into behavior change during the first two days and permanent gardens on day three and part of day four. We also had the opportunity to attend a few rotating sessions so I learned about small scale animal raising and family planning at the end of the fourth day.

Near the one year mark in my service I will also have to attend a Mid-Service Training (MST). While I have not yet been, from what I gather the idea is to see what the other members of your training group have been up to at their sites. It also provides a cross-collaborative environment, because all Volunteer sectors come. Until this point, all of our training dates were also combined with the Volunteers we got on the plane with. 

This other sector happens to be Community Health and AIDS Prevention (CHAP), but MST includes the other sectors represented in Togo. There are also Volunteers for Girls Education and Empowerment (GEE) and Environmental Action and Food Security (EAFS) who start their service just four months after we do. MST is also a good jumping off point for Volunteers to think about and plan how they want to maximize their second (and last) year of service.

Finally, the last ‘training’ is actually a Close/Continuation of Service conference. Again, I have not yet been to this, but I gather that the goal is to prepare volunteers to life after the Peace Corps. This includes not just life in America, but how to prepare leaving Togo and wrapping up work.

Why have I explained all of these different trainings? Well, several reasons. First, I needed to clarify all of acronyms that have filled my blog, and provide some background on these enigmatic “Peace Corps trainings” I have mentioned. Secondly, well.. during the last PC training I attended (PDM), I learned that my sector (SED) will be cut from Peace Corps Togo.

While this will definitely have an impact on the rest of my service, it hardly effects me directly. That is to say, the current SED Volunteers like me will not be removed from Togo, but instead we are the last. There will not be more SED Volunteers entering Togo in June as normal, nor will my training group be receiving replacement SED Volunteers in June 2013. 

Overall, this will also lower the likelihood that our posts will be replaced. The other three sectors in Togo will continue to receive the same number of volunteers (no increases), so if existing Volunteers from those sectors are scheduled to be replaced, there will simply not be enough volunteers to fill the current SED posts.

We were not given detailed reasons for the cut, but broadly speaking the entire Peace Corps budget has been cut by more than $25 million. Many sectors are being cut in all Peace Corps countries, and SED is one that was cut all over West Africa and other parts of the world. 

Here in Togo, the SED program has not been reporting its goal numbers, which probably also had a big impact on the cut. On paper, our main goals are 1) work with individuals/entrepreneurs, 2) work with youth 3) work with microfinance organizations and 4) work with people infected with HIV/AIDS. In reality, most SED Volunteers I talked with almost exclusively focus on the first.

For me, this whole cut has re-instilled the idea of sustainability to my service goals. Creating projects and doing work that can continue once I am gone has always been my goal, but now that is on the forefront more than ever. 

Most Volunteers think sustainability but still plan for having a replacement and giving them things to carry on with. I hope to leverage this cut in my community by generating more motivation from people. Who knows, I could be their last shot to help them achieve their dream goals.

Though I phrased this more as a cut, it was presented to us as a phasing out. It will be up to current SED PCV’s to do the phasing out but I think that has been the goal all along.