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Description of Service

In the "Cult of Escapism": Description of Service

Monday, October 29, 2012

Description of Service

This is my penultimate post on this blog. For quite a while, I've been thinking about how to summarize my two year service here, when I realized that I already did, for my official Description of Service (DOS). Before closing a service, a volunteer must submit their DOS to their in-country bosses and the final copy goes to Washington D.C. and is kept in the national archives forever. Which is kinda cool. But anyway, I'll further immortalize my DOS on this blog and give you all a nice 2.5 page summary of my Peace Corps service. Heads up for my final post, later this week.

Description of Peace Corps Service

Jack Fischl

Republic of Panamá 2010-2012

After a year-long application process assessing technical skills, cross-cultural adaptability and language ability, Peace Corps invited Jack Fischl to serve as a Community Economic Development (CED) Consultant in the Central American country of Panama.


Jack began 10 weeks of Pre-Service Training on August 18, 2010 in Santa Clara – a small rural community located an hour and a half west of the country’s capital, Panama City. The training comprised: Spanish language lessons, technical skills training, area studies, administrative procedures, and safety and medical training. As part of the field-based technical training, Jack spent one week in the indigenous village of Hato Chami, assisting a local small business to complete a business assessment. Pre-Service Training covered:
  • 105 hours of formal Spanish language instruction
  • 15 hours of area studies (the history, economics, and cultural norms of Panama)
  • 125 hours of training in CED technical concepts (participatory community analysis, teaching methodology, business assessments, strategic planning, etc.)
  • 145 hours of field-based trainings (Volunteer visit, site visit, and hands-on technical training)
  • 45 hours of administrative, safety and medical training

Jack also participated in three week-long In-Service Trainings throughout his service to strengthen the aforementioned skills and delve more in-depth into technical topics. The training programs included:
  • 40 hours of Business Planning training with a community counterpart
  • 5 hours of administrative, safety and medical training
  • 15 hours of CED technical training (teaching basic accounting, group formation, behavior change, etc.)
  • 40 hours of Project Management and Leadership training with two community counterparts


Jack swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on October 28, 2010 and was assigned to Soloy, a Ngäbe (pronounced 'naw-bey') indigenous community of about 4,000 people, located in the mountains of the semi-autonomous indigenous reservation, the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé. Due to its location at the end of the area's only paved road that leads deeper into the reservation and its significance as the capital of the Besikö district, Soloy is a hub for economic and political activity. In a region without electricity, little arable land, a per capita annual income of $429.00, 91.2% unemployment and 91.7% of the population living in extreme poverty (i.e. earning less than $2 per day)1, Jack's primary assignment as a Community Economic Development Consultant was to work with local leaders to develop employment and other economic opportunities, as well as to improve business practices among existing groups.

Primary Assignment

Tourism Business Development
After completing a community analysis and successfully integrating into the local culture, Jack decided to focus his efforts on working with motivated leaders to create a tourism group and develop activities and products to offer tourists. While many members of the community were interested in the idea of tourism, Jack was able to identify seven individuals who were truly committed and who became and remained the core of the community’s Tourism Committee. Throughout his service, Jack closely collaborated with a fellow Peace Corps Consultant living in Soloy to train and guide the leaders of the Tourism Committee to create multiple cultural, adventure, and ecological activities for tourists, including the development of the community’s first day-long tourist package used to attract business from tour and hotel operators from the nearby and heavily trafficked Chiriqui province.
In order to clarify the direction for the Tourism Committee, Jack facilitated the use of strategic and operational planning tools, including a SWOT analysis and writing the group's vision and mission statements. Furthermore, Jack drew on the expertise of several fellow Peace Corps Consultants and effectively trained the group’s member to improve leadership practices (see details of community-wide Project Management and Leadership seminars below). As a result, the members improved their group interaction, developed confidence in public speaking and learned to hold effective meetings. After several initial successful practice tours with tourists, Jack focused more heavily on training the group in advertising, making connections with local tour and hotel operators and marketing the group through a basic website.
In its first 18 months of operations, the Tourism Committee received nine tourist groups and several individual tourists, generating over $4,000 of income through activities and artisan sales. As a result, the group’s members effectively earned $570 each - 33% more than the average annual income - by dedicating the equivalent time of one month’s work. Moreover, many others in Soloy benefited through sales in their stores (e.g. sodas, snacks, etc.) and by hosting tourists in their homes.

Small Business Advising
Throughout his service, Jack served as a business consultant to several small businesses in Soloy and surrounding communities. Specifically, he trained 40 small store owners in Soloy and the neighboring town of Jebai in basic bookkeeping and inventory management. Consequently, virtually every store understood and consistently tracked sales.
Jack also trained and advised two local cooperatives: APRAMBE and Medo. With APRAMBE, Jack trained 15 members of this farmer's cooperative to complete a business assessment, develop a long-term strategic plan, and improve internal management. With Medo, a non-profit developed in Soloy by community members, Jack guided the 10 members to complete a strategic plan. He also helped connect the group to a distributor of affordable solar-powered flashlights, which decrease battery waste and use of kerosene lamps that are fire hazards and create unhealthy fumes. Consequently, Medo began selling the lights for a profit, creating an income source for the group, while benefiting local community members. At the time of this writing, 60 flashlights had been sold in the district and the distributor was sending more.

Secondary Projects/Activities

Business Plan Coordinator
In his second year of service, Jack was selected as the Business Plan Coordinator for the CED program, serving as Peace Corps Panama’s expert on elaborating business plans and in charge of providing support to his peers to develop their counterparts’ business skills. Therefore, he co-wrote a grant with a fellow CED Consultant and received $2,000 to develop basic business skills through local seminars. Jack visited six communities, effectively training 113 individuals representing 12 groups on planning, marketing, basic accounting and sales projections.

Project Management and Leadership Seminars
In cooperation with three fellow Peace Corps Consultants, Jack conducted a two-day community-wide seminar in Soloy for over 50 participants focused on developing their project management and leadership skills. Other topics the seminar covered included: managing personal resources, public speaking, and communicating with government agencies.
Additionally, Jack was selected by training staff to serve as a facilitator of Peace Corps Panama’s annual week-long Project Management and Leadership seminar, thus training 14 fellow Peace Corps Consultants and their community counterparts.

HIV and AIDS, Sexual Health, and Family Planning Seminar for Men

Jack, in collaboration with two other Peace Corps Consultants, conducted a seminar for men on the following four topics: sexual health and decision-making, family planning, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence. Twenty five local men attended the two day seminar and according to pre and post tests, 86% of participants indicated an increased understanding of the subject matter.

Language Skills

At the end of his service, Jack tested at Advanced-Medium. His Spanish language proficiency allowed him to effectively integrate in the community, build local capacity, and successfully communicate with agency counterparts. Additionally, he became fluent in conversational Ngäbere; the primary indigenous language spoken in the reservation.

1Camara de Comercio, Industrias y Agricultura de Panama. Centro de Estudio Economicos CEECAM. Desempeño Economico – 1 Trimestre del año 2010.


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