Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Extension Decision: the Nitty Gritty on Extending (pt. II)

This is the second post in this series on extending service beyond the initial two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The prelude to this post gives the story of my thoughts on extension for the first year and a half of service.  This post covers practical policy aspects of extension.

Before covering my decision-making process regarding extension (pt. III) and the specifics of what I would likely be doing during an extension (pt. IV), it occurred to me that for those readers who aren’t familiar with the bureaucratic details of my world, a brief overview is in order so as to make sense of the rest of these posts.  As such, this one is mostly for those back home who aren’t so steeped in handbooks, policy guidelines, and other such light reading on the details of Peace Corps.

Upon the successful completion of two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer (not including training), a small group of volunteers may elect to extend their service.  The “extension” is calculated from the original Close of Service (COS) date, which is two years from the day that a Trainee takes the oath and becomes a full volunteer.  They then receive a new COS date reflecting the term of extension.  In the PC vernacular, a person who has extended beyond their original COS date is an “extendee”.

An extension may last a maximum of 2 additional years (making the total service 4 years + Pre-Service Training) and occurs in the same country as the initial tour.  A volunteer extending less than a year simply tacks on the additional time and gets a new, later COS date.  A volunteer extending for 1 year or more, however, is entitled to 30 days “special leave”, during which Peace Corps pays the expense and grants what is essentially extra vacation time in order to travel home.  The leave cannot be taken before the original COS date, but one is encouraged to not delay it significantly into the extension.  Additionally, the extendee is allowed to receive up to 1/3 of their readjustment allowance (the approximately $7,000 one gets at the end of service).  Readjustment allowance is calculated on a monthly basis ($250/month), but for extendees, regardless of the term of the extension the rate is increased to $350/month.  Basically, what this boils down to are some pretty hefty bonuses to those who have been living the Peace Corps lifestyle for just over 2 years.  Still with me?

In order to extend, a volunteer must be in good standing with the agency, which in Moldova essentially boils down to good conduct and positive evaluations from one’s program manager.  Additionally, it requires medical clearance, something that cannot be granted until 90 days prior to the originally-scheduled COS date.

A volunteer must also submit a proposal outlining what they intend to do during the extension and why they think it is important.  In the case of a short extension – sometimes even just a month or two – this  often involves closing out a key project or ensuring its sustainability in a situation where for whatever reason that cannot happen in the volunteer’s original timeframe.  The final decision is made by the Country Director in consultation with the post’s Senior Staff, though of course Washington always gets the final say.

In the case of a longer extension, a the extendee may also move sites (home and workplace).  Regardless of whether or not the extendee moves, their service should represent “expanded duties”, i.e. one cannot extend simply to continue doing exactly what they were doing for the previous two years.  There has to be a growth.  In this way, one is not only extending length service, but also the scope or depth of the service itself.  From the agencies perspective, after two years a successful volunteer shouldn’t really be doing what they were originally brought in to do – there are new volunteers being rotated in for that – one should be moving on to new challenges.

Finally, globally Peace Corps has one particular track known as “Peace Corps Volunteer Leader” (PCVL).    Broadly, the position is described as such:
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...Volunteer Leaders provide direction or guidance.
Different countries structure PCVL programs differently, but common tasks include:
·         Acting as liaison among Volunteers, host country supervisors, and Peace Corps staff;
·         Assisting Peace Corps staff in site selection and placement of new Volunteers;
·         Assisting Peace Corps staff in the design and implementation of Volunteer training;
·         Assisting Peace Corps staff in the design and evaluation of Volunteer projects; and
·         Assisting Peace Corps staff in the provision of logistical and administrative support to Volunteers and Trainees.

Not all countries have PCVLs, though Washington has been very encouraging of the program in recent years.  Overall, a post should not exceed a ratio of more than 1 PCVL to 25 volunteers.  For Moldova, that caps us at around 4, which is fitting since our PCVLs are programmatically focused, essentially making them the senior volunteer in 1 of our 4 projects (English Education, Health Education, Agriculture, and Community Development).  Moldova piloted a limited version of PCVL during my first year of service (2010-11) and last summer brought in the first full PCVLs on 2 of the 4 programs.

While a PCVL’s primary focus is improving the project they are assigned to and supporting broader post-initiatives, they are still volunteers.  As such, at any given time they must be involved in at least one activity aimed to build capacity amongst-host country nationals, although that activity may represent a small amount of overall work time.

So, what does this all mean for me?  Well first, as probably guessed by this point, the specific extension I’m considering would be as the PCVL for the Health Program.  As such, it is highly encouraged that the extension be for a full year, but not mandatory.  A serious PCVL proposal, however, would need to be for at least the better part of a year.  Which brings us to second, which is the decision of whether to opt for a shorter 9 month extension or go for the grand tour of a full year, which effects many other things like whether I get 1 month home leave.   It also informs the broader question of how I propose to craft an extension, including PCVL to host-country national balance, where I live, and what partnerships compliment PCVL responsibilities.  Third, it means I have until 5/9/2012 to submit the final version of my extension proposal, after which point I will be at the mercies of higher powers. Finally, it means that formal approval cannot come before May 18, as that is the 90 day mark before my originally scheduled COS date of August 18 and that is the earliest day I can be medically cleared.

So, with that, we blaze on bravely ahead, coming up to our next post, part III of this series, where I will consider the pros and cons of whether or not to chum about with the Moldovans a bit longer.

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