Why Posh Corps?

I served in Peace Corps South Africa, a posh corps country. At least, this is what visiting Peace Corps volunteers called it. South Africa is a medical evacuation hub. Volunteers from all over Africa are sent to South Africa for medical treatment. Eventually, when their health improves, these volunteers are allowed to visit the shopping malls in Pretoria, the administrative capitol of South Africa. In Pretoria volunteers can buy Haagen-Dazs ice cream, or an iPhone, or see a movie at an IMAX theater, so of course they call it posh corps. What they can’t know, is that 10 miles outside of Pretoria people are living in tin shacks, with spotty electricity and an unpredictable water supply. Moving back and forth between these two extremes is incredibly stressful.

 

South Africa is not alone in this contrasting standard of living. Globalization is creating this scenario all over the world. Wealthy cities develop at an increasingly rapid pace, as rural villages wait, and hope for the government to pave the roads, or fix the water treatment plant. This contrast creates serious cultural strain. Volunteers in other countries serve in communities where children go hungry because their parents cannot not afford to feed them every day. This is a difficult situation for a volunteer, but imagine serving in a country where children do not get enough to eat because their parents went to the capitol city and spent all their money on an iPhone. This illustrates the posh corps dilemma. First-world amenities do not solve the problems of small villages, they intensify existing problems, and make service more complex.

 

I wanted to make a film about this experience, and I chose the slightly ironic title, Posh Corps. Some people understand immediately that the title is intended to expose the truth about posh corps, that it is not posh at all. Others are disturbed the title, fearing that it intends to belittle the Peace Corps experience. Despite these concerns, I believe the title is appropriate. Returned volunteers have a tendency to remember selectively. We focus on our successful projects. American culture values success, and returned volunteers are nothing if not good students of culture. But before we let the experience become romanticized and sepia-toned in our own minds, we should try to remember that we failed more often than we succeeded, that Peace Corps service is universally difficult. Posh Corps is not designed to drive any political agenda, it is not intended to romanticize, it is intended to capture a very challenging experience. The title is challenging, which reflects the intent of the film.

 

Posh Corps is also designed for prospective volunteers. It is with these future volunteers that the film may achieve it’s goal. These future volunteers will see an unbiased image of the Peace Corps experience. They will see volunteers struggling to succeed, struggling to feel valued by their communities, struggling with their own self-doubt. They will see the true challenges of Peace Corps service. Some will see the film and decide that there are easier ways to advance their careers, but others will see the film and decide that, despite the challenges, Peace Corps is still a worthwhile experience. Hopefully, Posh Corps will help produce better volunteers.

 

My own personal aspiration for the film is the possibility of defusing the term posh corps. If future volunteers see the film before their service, the term posh corps will not be a derogatory statement, it will be a movie reference. The term will no longer be infused with dismissive power. These volunteers will know that posh corps is a myth. They will know that Peace Corps is not about living without electricity, it’s not a contest to see who suffers most. Peace Corps is about relationships. It is not about building a well or a sewer, it is about building understanding and friendship. I hope that Posh Corps will change the way volunteers approach their service, and that it will ensure that suffering is no longer a metric for volunteer success.

 

-Alan Toth