Adrianna Neuenschwander, 126
When Howard Williams, the new Country Director of Peace Corps Thailand, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, his biggest challenge was balancing persistence with patience. During his service as a rural agriculture extension volunteer he accessed and installed government-provided jetmatic pumps, secured a commercial loan for a rice demonstration plot, accessed government-donated fruit trees for a school orchard, and secured irrigation for 20 hectares of rice paddy.
All of these projects were accomplished by building relationships in his community.
“Persistence in this context meant continuing to strive to figure out and accomplish what we were there for but maybe not always in the same way. Patience meant not just waiting for responses or results but allowing the situation, including relationships, to develop and evolve so that we could learn from them and adapt strategies and sometimes our objectives,” Williams said.
Since his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, Williams has worked on USAID-funded projects around the world, as well as providing technical services to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and UNICEF.
“I often say the World Bank has money, USAID has programs, and Peace Corps has people.”
Howard believes that Peace Corps is as relevant as it was in 1961, and that Volunteers change the local dynamic just by showing up. He believes this is equallytrue in countries like Thailand, where the distribution of services and opportunities is uneven.
“The relevance of the three goals is still valid,” Williams said “There are many communities where Volunteers can make substantial contributions and have a meaningful experience.”
For Volunteers who worry that a new country director means stricter enforcement of the rules, Williams said he will only make changes after consultation with staff and Volunteers.
“I like to focus on alignment of organizational mission, what the Volunteers bring to it, and how we as staff are organized to support those two elements.” Williams said.
Williams notes that rules make sense if they are helpful in protecting and promoting the Volunteers and the program.
“That’s where alignment comes in, so that we are all working together with a shared understanding of our program to provide service to [Volunteer’s] schools and communities in a way that makes for a positive experience for [Volunteers and communities],” Williams said.
Williams encourages Volunteers to strive to be helpful to those they engage with, and that we all have to be cognizant of not doing harm whiletrying to learn from what is not working.
“I feel we should engage in good work, do it as well as we can, learn from it, and enjoy doing it.”
Williams was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 1979-1982, and received his doctorate in international development education from Florida State University in the mid1980s. He first joined the Peace Corps staff with more than 20 years of international educational development experience, including capacity building for institutions and evaluation systems in Bangladesh, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, and Nepal . Williams spent most of his life in Tallahassee, Florida before he departed for his first posting as Peace Corps Country Director in Ghana in 2002.Williams has been married to Dr. Pamela Allen since 1986, and she has joined him in Thailand where she can continue her work in development and her newest ventures as a novelist and acupuncturist. Allen previously worked as an expert in development program management and capacity development with organizations such as USAID, Johns Hopkins University, and The Mitchell Group.
And importantly for Volunteers, Williams says PCVs should feel free to call him by his first name: “Howard”.