- Origins of Peace Corps
- Goals and Mission
- Peace Corps Today
At 2:00 a.m. on October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed students on the steps of the University of Michigan Union. He was on the campaign trail and had stopped for rest, but was met by a crowd of college students eager to hear him speak. On those steps, Kennedy delivered a short but powerful speech that changed the course of history and the lives of so many. Kennedy challenged the students to give two years of their lives to help people in developing countries around the world.
Excerpt from that speech:
“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can! And I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.
Therefore, I am delighted to come to Michigan, to this university, because unless we have those resources in this school, unless you comprehend the nature of what is being asked of you, this country can't possibly move through the next 10 years in a period of relative strength. So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort...”
In his 1961 Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy said, “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves…”
Perhaps the most remembered words spoken by the president came later in this same speech when he said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy made good on his promise to those who were impoverished and in need around the world by signing an executive order that established the Peace Corps. Later that year, Congress adopted the Peace Corps Act, the purpose of which was to “promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of such countries, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.”
Thus was the birth of the Peace Corps, a governmental agency that shares “America’s most precious resource—its people” with developing countries around the world. Thousands of Americans responded to Kennedy’s call, and the program grew rapidly. There were 7,300 volunteers serving in 44 countries by the end of 1963. By June of 1966 that number had more than doubled to 15,000, the largest in Peace Corps history. To date more than 195,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries across the world.
Goals and Mission
The three goals implicit in the purpose given to Peace Corps by congress in 1961 are still relevant today and form the foundation for all Peace Corps activities. Those goals are as follows:
- To help the people 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
Where are we? (Countries)
We are in developing countries around the world in almost every region...Central America, The Caribbean, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
Current number of countries served: 70 posts serving 76 countries
Most of us are in Africa, but there are also a lot of us in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Central America.
Who are we? (Volunteer Demographics)
Statistically speaking we are single, 20 somethings recently out of undergrad; however, Volunteers come from many different walks of life.
What do we do? (Sectors)
We do development work.
Peace Corps’ idea of development is, “any process that promotes the dignity of people and their capacity to improve their own lives.”
Well that’s great but when a Volunteer in Africa walks out of their hut and into the village, how are they supposed to translate that into something tangible? To help Volunteers navigate the ambiguity of development work, Peace Corps places Volunteers in various sectors, which have sector specific goals and objectives. To accomplish these objectives, Volunteers engage in a range of activities and popular projects that you just kind of hear about during training, by talking to other Volunteers, and reading Peace Corps publications.
Most of us work in Education and Health & HIV/AIDS. Other sectors include Environment, Business Development, Agriculture, Youth Development, and Other.
Additionally, Volunteers in all sectors incorporate meaningful work in information and communication technology (ICT), women in development/gender and development (WID/GAD), HIV/AIDS, and youth development into their primary and secondary activities.
For more information visit this site.
Look for posts in the future, in which I will detail Peace Corps Paraguay, my sector, and give some specifics of the work Volunteers are doing in Paraguay.