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Three ways to serve, one holistic approach to support communities

Peace Corps Mexico shares how they leverage the inherent strengths of two-year, Response, and the Virtual Service Pilot to support in-country projects.

Peace Corps Mexico has leaned into service integration in a big way. Post’s program managers now discuss each partner request with one another, brainstorming how the various ways to serve—traditional two-year Volunteering (PCVs), shorter-term, more specialized Peace Corps Response Volunteers (PCRVs) and part-time, virtual service (VSPPs)—could supplement each other to fully meet the partner’s request.

“What I'm learning is that the successful integration of service models is fueled by integrating the PCR program not just at [headquarters], but at Post,” shared Mexico’s Country Director, Matthew Colburn. “We’re looking to incentivize collaboration between [in-person PCVs and VSPPs] as well as with our community partners.”

Colburn went on to explain that PCVs may require additional technical expertise, expertise that specialized PCRVs possess. Due to their shorter service though, PCRVs often face integration obstacles, such as learning the local language and understanding cultural norms. Peace Corps Mexico sees an opportunity to have the PCVs, who have a deeper connection with local communities, help the PCRVs feel more at home in their country of service. Finally, VSPPs, who donate their services as private U.S. citizens, can benefit from the guidance of on-the-ground PCVs, primarily with navigating community integration from afar, and intercultural competency.

Examples of Mexico’s service integration

A university located in the state of Hidalgo recently conducted a needs assessment, which revealed that 40 percent of their English faculty did not meet the country’s minimum proficiency level. Erik, a PCRV with over 30 years of experience Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), collaborated with the university to develop an English teacher training curriculum to raise the faculty’s proficiency.

With Erik completing his service, the university hopes to now receive support from two VSPPs for 26 weeks to pilot the virtual instruction of the curriculum and continue building capacity among its 250 staff members – many of whom teach at remote or satellite campuses that host PCVs.

“We've certainly seen that the Virtual Service Pilot has the potential to match specific, technical skills with local priorities more quickly and they can reach multiple geographic areas. In Mexico's case, some of those geographic areas are out of bounds for our on-the-ground Volunteers,” shared Colburn.

Mexico’s PCR program manager, Paola Cabero, added, “While we prepare for a PCV, which takes us 12 months, we can deliver VSPPs in 4 months to start working [on the project].”

The university has already had success with virtual support from the Peace Corps. This past year they collaborated with a US-based VSPP, Doug, to co-facilitate English conversation sessions for the faculty.

“Establishing a connection between an on-site PCV and a VSPP like me offers the best of both worlds. We’re not isolated in our individual roles; we can find creative ways to collaborate our efforts for the benefit of the [partner].”

Peace Corps Mexico plans on connecting Doug with their new PCRV to see how the education projects can complement each other. They also plan on having that same PCRV train the two-year PCVs who arrived in November and their counterparts on leadership and English language teaching skills.

“This was not [originally] the plan when we requested PCVs and PCRVs, but our partner identified the opportunity to bring them together and collaborate on this project,” Cabero said.

“Volunteers have intercultural skills and experience in different disciplines that allow them to work collaboratively and achieve goals established in their projects, which in turn positively impact both institutions,” the university’s counterpart shared.

Connecting two in-country partner organizations

A PCRV, Tom, is currently lending his Geographic Information System (GIS) skills to support a partner on climate change-related projects, such as developing an ecological management program to recover the ecosystem along a local river and improve the quality of life of surrounding communities. A few nearby organizations that regularly collaborate with Tom’s partner organization on conservation and environmental management tasks received two PCVS this past November.

“The partner [with] the two-year Volunteers wants to help manage local vegetation and protect the animals in protected areas. To do that, they need to create a report, which will include maps and the layers of the vegetation to know which and how many animals are present. That requires advanced skills in GIS,” shared Paola.

Peace Corps Mexico saw an opportunity for Tom to maximize his in-country impact by supporting the partner and the PCVS in tandem with his current project. In doing so, Peace Corps staff witnessed an unexpected benefit: a more immediate community for incoming Volunteers.

“Once [the PCVs] arrive at their sites, they can immediately start socializing with and learning from PCRVs. Then, for VSP, I asked the partner to have a special meeting with [the PCRV] and VSPPs to introduce them and discuss how the collaboration will work,” said Cabero.

Peace Corps Mexico is eager to observe more of these collaborations develop organically and offer their support.

Mexico’s service integration tips for Peace Corps Posts

  1. Take time to understand the partner’s needs – there may be a VSPP, PCRV, or PCV currently serving with related experience.
  2. Understand the strengths and challenges of PCVs, PCRVs, and VSPPs.
  3. Train program managers to discuss the various ways to serve with partners during site visits.
  4. Host reoccurring meetings among program managers to discuss and identify possible opportunities to supplement initial support requests.
  5. Make introductions to foster a sense of community among in-person Volunteers and online Participants but also among in-country partners.
  6. Understand that service integration will look different at each post as every country has a different reality.