Today (3/1/2006) is the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy. More than 180,000 volunteers have served in about 80 countries, in English education, health, environment, community development, and other fields. Today there are almost 8,000 volunteers around the world. When I served, 30 years ago in South Korea, there were about 10,000 and there is a need for at least that many now.
Here’s the text of a letter I sent to my local newspaper this week:
March 1 marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. In this time when America is pursuing a dangerous and misguided war in Iraq it is fitting to honor the men and women who serve our country in the cause of peace. Our Peace Corps Volunteers (true volunteers who are paid only a living allowance) provide much-needed skills in their assigned countries, teach their hosts about America, its culture and its values, and bring their experiences home with them to share with their American family, friends and neighbors. It is clear that many Americans do not understand the rest of the world, and we rightly worry that the world often misunderstands us. That misunderstanding, along with gross economic disparity, is what causes conflict and is at the root of terrorism. Those problems will not be solved with guns and bombs, but by reaching out to the world to provide development assistance and building mutual understanding and trust. That’s what the Peace Corps does. Thanks to those who serve.
As I said in the letter, one of the goals of the Peace Corps is to bring the experience home. One way we do that is through an active alumni network and the National Peace Corps Association. This week I attended a program at the local library presented by a young woman who recently returned from her two years’ service in Macedonia where she worked in environmental education. I would say most of the 25 or so people in the audience knew very little about Macedonia, or the Peace Corps, when Kristin began, but after a well-organized and thoughtful talk, and fantastic pictures, we were all much better educated.
Another Peace Corps alumni organization that I am involved with is Peace Corps Writers, which helps volunteers tell their story, and other stories. Brows through that site–you will recognize a number of the names of the writers whom we count as members.
Happy Birthday Peace Corps!