The Peace Corps was established on March 1, 1961 during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. Believe it or not, this was not President Kennedy’s brainchild; it was the idea of Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin in the late 1950’s. When Kennedy learned of the Reuss proposal and saw the enthusiasm from younger members of the American society for this proposal, he decided to add it to his platform. Good/great bet!!!
He first made his position publicly at a debate during his campaign for President against then Vice President Richard Nixon (who was also running for the office of President) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was surprised to learn that when he brought the subject to the attention of the crowd, asking how many of them would be willing to represent their country around the world in developing countries for the cause of freedom. The students roared… I get goose bumps thinking of this…I’m a globalist at heart and to know that we as Americans have helped and can continue to help those less fortunate around the world, makes my heart happy.
The Peace Corps proposal gained momentum in the final days of Kennedy’s campaign, and on November 8 he was narrowly elected the 35th president of the United States. On January 20, 1961, in his famous inaugural address, he promised aid to the poor of the world. “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” he said, “we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required…”
After March 1, thousands of young Americans answered this call to duty by volunteering for the Peace Corps. The agency, which was headed by Kennedy’s brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, eventually chose some 750 volunteers to serve in 13 nations in 1961. In August, Kennedy hosted a White House ceremony to honor the first Peace Corps volunteers. The 51 Americans who later landed in Accra, Ghana, for two years of service immediately made a favorable impression on their hosts when they gathered on the airport tarmac to sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language.
***To help the peoples of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;
***To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
***To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
By the end of 1963, 7,000 volunteers were in the field, serving in 44 developing countries. In 1966, Peace Corps enrollment peaked, with more than 15,000 volunteers in 52 countries. Budget cuts later reduced the number of Peace Corps volunteers, but today more than 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in over 70 countries. Since 1961, more than 180,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 134 nations.
I can not begin to tell you of the daunting respect I have for anyone who has served in the Peace Corps…yes, there are other organizations/groups that serve the global citizens but as an American, it is the Peace Corps that reigns supreme in my mind and heart.
Having lived on four (4) continents (have I begun a BLOG with those words before), I have many memories of life experiencing other cultures….memories of two (2) individuals stand out so vividly; it is as if they have not ever faded. One is while I was living in Brazil and I had the fortune to get to know an American woman who was living in Asuncion, Paraguay. We became good friends for a number of years. Even though I was teaching school in Sao Paulo, I envied her what she did on a regular basis and her ability to do it. She left Asuncion each day via bus and went into the fields/forests to work with members of local tribes teaching them sanitary/healthcare habits, nutrition, maternity/neo-natal needs, etc. When her assignment was up and she was to return to the States, she took a bus from Asuncion to Lubbock, Texas, her home. She later married a man from Denmark, moved there, raised a few sons and became a Chairwoman for Amnesty International. One of the ‘admired’ from my perspective and I feel fortunate to have met women like her.
Another woman that I admired from the Peace Corps, I met while living in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I lived in a protected ‘compound’ with a very large/high stone wall topped with glass/wire, guards at the gate and guards in front of each dwelling within the compound. We had a generator that needed to turn on daily since we lost power on a regular basis. She lived in a small ‘cabin/cottage’ outside the walls of the compound with four (4) other Peace Corps/United Nations volunteers. We met at an outdoor market and we became fast friends; I offered for her to come visit whenever she needed amenities that were not regularly available to her. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Agronomy and she was in Nigeria to teach the Nigerians the best use of their land for food consumption. We left Nigeria before she did but I think of her often and I still see her face at my door in the compound wanting to come in for food or a shower…
As I noted, there are a plethora of programs around the world that involve American youth (Volunteer America), Americans in general (Peace Corps); some may be profession specific (Doctors Without Borders) or even activity specific (Grass Roots Soccer…which sends young adults to Africa to teach soccer and to educate on HIV prevention). Whatever the premise, the organizations are doing a ‘world’ of good and should be supported.
If you are interested in the Peace Corps or supporting a global, volunteer organization, please contact Rosanne Bennett at 484-718-3427 or at email@example.com