Three times a year, in January, July, and October, Peace Corps Indonesia volunteers complete what is known as a volunteer report form, or VRF for short. The VRF is essentially what PC headquarters uses to gauge volunteer effectiveness and, when all the VRFs from all PC countries are aggregated, to make informed and quantified proposals to congress to allocate funding each year.
Since I work in the education sector my VRF is primarily focused on capturing education-related things I’ve participated in and not too much else. There is some room to record things beyond the direct scope of our primary assignment, but the nature of the VRF is more focused on quantitative and factual data.
The VRF is broken up into several parts. The first part, called “Tell Your Story,” is a freeform written portion where volunteers can share things like success stories, how they’re using their training, planned activities, challenges, lessons learned, and what they wish Americans knew about their host country. I think this section helps provide the clearest and most detailed picture of what an individual’s time in the Peace Corps is like, but it’s hard to quantify 8,000 people’s success stories into data on which to propose a budget for the coming fiscal year.
Once a volunteer has shared their “story” there are sections focused on the brass tacks of service, starting with contacts. People volunteers have met and worked with at site are recorded in the VRF for the reference of PC staff and potentially for a future PCV who could live in the same site.
Activities and Goals
The largest portion of the VRF, and arguably the most important, is “Activities.” The activities section is all about defining exactly what work we’ve been a part of during our service. On the VRF I just completed I had four activities. That might not seem like many but I’ve been busier than that number implies, though not as busy as one might assume.
The classes I teach at my school all fall within one activity and the six classes I taught at a local elementary school is another. I also facilitate an English club with university students at my district capital, and I helped put together some English lessons for a month-long community service program some students from a university out of Bandung were participating in in my village.
Each activity must be accurately described and categorized by various attributes which Peace Corps monitors. Whether the activity fell under Goal One, Goal Two, Goal Three or some combination thereof is one of the first questions. With each goal an activity is determined to be under more questions are generated that must be answered. The Goals merit their own post which I may write about later but, for now, Goal One is about technical assistance and Goal Two and Goal Three are about cultural exchange, basically. The number of people involved in the activity, both service receivers and service providers, must also be recorded for each activity.
In addition to the basic facts about each activity there is also a series of questions about Peace Corps’ cross sector programming priorities (CSPPs) about the areas each activity might touch upon such as food security, youth as resources, people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS, host country volunteers, and several others. If an activity is somehow related to one of those areas then more questions must be answered about said activity.
Objectives and Indicators
After properly defining, describing, and categorizing each activity, which can be quite a task if a volunteer has been busy, there are indicators based on the objectives set by our post. This section of the VRF is where the raw data is generated that can be used to say how many people PCVs work with and how many services are rendered to how many people in the countries Peace Corps operates and how many people were able to reach the objectives set by the local Peace Corps office, in my case that’s mostly English proficiency among teachers and students.
The VRF can take quite a while to complete and it’s not the most intuitive of systems to work with. For example, the age ranges for recording the number of people taking part in an activity are different than the age ranges for people who fall into one of the indicator categories. But it is a useful tool, even beyond Peace Corps. At the end of each PCVs service they are given a description of service (DOS) that is compiled from their submitted VRFs. I like to think of it as a scrapbook, of sorts, one that is often used when applying for jobs or graduate school after service. For this reason, I try to take the VRF serious.
Beyond the VRF
As extensive and comprehensive as the VRF is there are just some things which can’t be captured in its intricate web of objectives, indicators, CSPPs, and countless number boxes. Much of my time is not spent teaching. I spend a lot of time interacting with locals, taking pictures with them, explaining why I’m here and what I’m doing, explaining away misconceptions about America (and there are a lot). The impression volunteers make upon host county nationals is the clearest and most authentic image most of them will see for a long time, maybe years.
But volunteers leave impressions on more than just locals. On a recent trip to a beach town with some other volunteers we met several people from across Europe—Holland, France, Germany—backpacking around Southeast Asia. We hung out with some of them and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t super cool to represent America to them as well.
In a time when Americans are characterized as being one-dimensional (think overindulged, fat, loud, addicted to reality television and obsessed with guns) to people across the world, and even in America too, we were living specimens of American exceptionalism. A group of Americans living and working—volunteering, really—in a foreign country, speaking the language, well-adjusted to the culture and climate, competent, and capable.
Events like that don’t fit easily into the volunteer report form but they are exactly what Peace Corps is about: fostering a sense of likeness and brotherhood between people the world over.