What is a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader?

Good day to you!

It’s a beautiful afternoon here, and today I’m waist deep in the process of catching up! It’s been a heck of a few months, but a question that came up from my last post has stuck with me!

“You talk a little bit about what you’ve been up to, but you haven’t really told us, what a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) is!”

That my friends, is quite the question. As you may be aware, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is a member of Peace Corps, who accepts a voluntary assignment in a country abroad for a term of 27 months! If you’re not conversant with the most recent reported demographics of Peace Corps, I’ll start with a brief history and summary.

Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1st, 1961. As of last year, over 220,000 volunteers have served in more than 140 countries world wide. In the last few years a new director has taken the helm. Carolyn Hessler-Radelet, a former PCV from Western Samoa between 1981 and 83 is working tirelessly to see a brighter future for the organization, and to further it’s mission and goal globally. She’s a bright star, and is leading us forward.

In 2014, Peace Corps served 64 countries, and surprisingly had slightly lower numbers than we expected! I’ve always had the number of PCV’s serving globally at between 8-9000, but it turns out that we came in just under 7000 at approximately 6,818 volunteers! Something you might find even more surprising, is that the gender ratio in Peace Corps today is between 63-65% female, and 37-35% male! What isn’t surprising is that it’s still mostly a singles oriented organization with 94% of it’s volunteers unmarried.

The average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer is 28, and although I joined at the tender age of 24, we had an impressive range of ages and experiences from 21 to 60 in my intake class alone! Peace Corps has been actively targeting the recruitment of older volunteers as well, pushing for more of an experienced and world wise group.

What makes Peace Corps so special and unique, and getting back to the title of this post, what would make a PCV want to take on a leadership role and become a PCVL.

As stated by Peace Corps themselves, ” Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they serve. They collaborate with local governments, schools, communities, small businesses, and entrepreneurs to create sustainable, community-based projects that address changing and complex needs across six sectors.” There aren’t any other organizations quite like it in the world. The nearest experience I’ve found is a toss up between Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO – UK), independent missionaries and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Even so, their volunteers often work at mid level district, or provincial levels, and I’ve not encountered them living in the field or operating with the sense of mission and front line exposure as Peace Corps Volunteers. As you can tell, that’s a point of pride. That front line attitude, and the mentality of working alongside the people we serve, combined with a development model that is focused on increasing the human development and capacity of communities so that they may create and develop their own independence is spectacular. It’s frustrating, difficult to say the least, and the most rewarding. At the end of the day, you know you’ve left communities with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to claw their way out of poverty, and to stand tall and proud. Instead of treating poverty as a disease, and the impoverished as a lesser class of people, Peace Corps puts their volunteers in the same living conditions as the communities they are serving, working and living on the same amount of income and access to resources, and then allows the PCV to integrate and build linkages and programs that serve the particular needs of each community, strengthening their host country from the inside out.

The Peace Corps specifically provides technical assistance to countries that request it, while strategically targeting resources to achieve the greatest impact. The part of that line that really stands out is that countries must specifically request Peace Corps to join them.

Peace Corps Volunteers are spread across the world and as of September 2014, by geographic region, Volunteer were concentrated by the following proportions:
Africa: 45%
Latin America: 23%
Eastern Europe/Central Asia: 10%
Asia: 12%
The Caribbean: 4%
North Africa/Middle East: 3%
Pacific Islands: 3%

With 64 countries served across those geographic areas, and each program being a unique response to the requests and needs of the host country – every post has a different focus, and different model of service. Ghana wouldn’t have the same administrative structure, or focus, as say Costa Rica. The fundamentals remain the same – the commitment to safety and to wellbeing of the volunteers, the drive to provide front line empowerment and development that can achieve the greatest achievement at a grass root and governmental level, but the details are open and fluid – precisely what’s needed.

Now all of that background is to say – that a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Zambia, is much different from a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in Malawi, our next door neighbor.

A Peace Corps Volunteer Leader – From the Global Manual:

“The Peace Corps Act authorizes the Agency to enroll Volunteer Leaders whose services are requested for supervisory or other special duties or responsibilities in connection with Peace Corps programs overseas. It is Peace Corps policy to enroll Volunteer Leaders when their assistance provides added value to the Agency’s overseas programs and their role as Volunteer Leaders is consistent with the criteria and requirements of this manual section. For the purposes of this manual section, the terms supervisory and supervision do not mean that Volunteer Leaders have supervisory authority over Volunteers or Trainees. Rather, the terms mean that Volunteer Leaders provide direction or guidance.


As a matter of law, a Volunteer Leader is first and foremost a Volunteer. Thus, except as specified in this manual section, all other Peace Corps policies and responsibilities applicable to Volunteers and Trainees also apply to Volunteer Leaders. Accordingly, Volunteer Leaders must, in addition to their special Volunteer Leader services, be involved in at least one substantive Volunteer program or activity with an assigned counterpart.


Before a Volunteer may be enrolled as a Volunteer Leader, the Country Director must determine that each of the following criteria is satisfied:
(a) A continuing need exists for a Volunteer Leader to perform appropriate supervisory or other
special duties or responsibilities above and beyond the normal assignment and responsibilities
of a Volunteer;
(b) In addition to the assigned Volunteer Leader duties, the Volunteer Leader must also be
involved in at least one substantive Volunteer program/activity with an assigned counterpart;
(c) Volunteer Leaders are not permitted to fill staff positions, but they may assist staff as long as
they work under staff supervision;
(d) Volunteer Leaders are not permitted to perform inherently governmental functions (see
Attachment A); and
(e) A Volunteer shall have had sufficient service overseas as a Volunteer to demonstrate both the knowledge and ability to work successfully with other Volunteers and to perform the duties of a Volunteer Leader.

In each of their assignments, Volunteer Leaders contribute their own unique Volunteer perspective and expertise. Volunteer Leaders are generally expected to provide on-the-job supervision (that is, provide direction or guidance), handle administrative tasks related to logistical support for Volunteer projects, provide counsel and guidance to Volunteers, and be on the lookout for difficulties in job relations or personal adjustment. Specific examples of appropriate Volunteer Leader assignments include:

(a) Acting as liaison among Volunteers, host country supervisors, and Peace Corps staff;
(b) Assisting Peace Corps staff in site selection and placement of new Volunteers;
(c) Assisting Peace Corps staff in the design and implementation of Volunteer training;
(d) Assisting Peace Corps staff in the design and evaluation of Volunteer projects;
(e) Assisting Peace Corps staff in the provision of logistical and administrative support to
Volunteers and Trainees; and
(f) Providing Imprest fund services if designated as an Imprest fund Class B cashier or sub-cashier within the provisions of MS 760, after having received the same training, directives, materials, guidance, and supervision as cashiers who are U.S. government employees.

As you can see, the manual leaves quite a bit of wiggle room in the actual duties of a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader, and in my next post I’ll talk a bit about What being a PCVL in Zambia entailed.






2 responses to “What is a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader?”

  1. kayesha Avatar

    Hey there,

    Is there an actual Manual Doc somewhere? I can’t find one anywhere.

    Thank you

  2. David Berger Avatar

    Dear Kayesha, yes there is – a description in the Global PC manual – you can find a PDF of this section specifically here: http://files.peacecorps.gov/documents/MS-202-Policy.pdf

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