News / USA

At 50, US Peace Corps Still Draws Volunteers

President John F. Kennedy gives a personal farewell message to Peace Corps volunteers in the White House Rose Garden August 28, 1961, before their departure the following day for assignments in Africa
President John F. Kennedy gives a personal farewell message to Peace Corps volunteers in the White House Rose Garden August 28, 1961, before their departure the following day for assignments in Africa

Alex Gordon volunteered in the Peace Corps in the early 1990s. He has a box full of keepsakes from the more than two years he spent building a rural school in Paraguay.

“Yeah it brings back a whole lot of memories,” he admits.

Gordon says volunteering in the Peace Corps is about more than doing good in the world.

“It gives you the confidence that you can really do anything,” he explains.

Like volunteering again. Two decades, Gordon is rejoining for another stint and this time he will go to Liberia.



President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961. He told new volunteers on the South Lawn of the White House that America’s reputation in the countries they were going to would depend to a large extent on them.

“And if you can impress them with your commitment, to freedom, to the advancement of the interests of people everywhere, to your pride in your country and its best traditions, and what it stands for, the influence may be far-reaching,” Kennedy said.

Since then, more than 200,000 volunteers have worked in countries all over the world.

One of those was Aaron Williams, who is now the Peace Corps director.

“Everywhere I go, Jerome, I find that the leadership met a Peace Corps volunteer many, many years ago and that had a really positive impact, a transformative experience in their lives - prime ministers, presidents, cabinet officials, leaders of large companies in the countries where we serve,” Williams notes.

PEACE CORPS FACTS

About the volunteers

  • Over 200,000 Americans have served
  • 8,655 current volunteers/trainees
  • 60% women, 40% men
    19% minorities 7% over 50


Peace Corps supporters say it furthers America’s foreign policy goals at an infinitesimal cost compared to the U.S. military budget. But President Barack Obama has not kept a campaign promise to double the organization's size and Congress is proposing tens of millions of dollars in cuts.

Still new volunteers keep signing up. Supriyah Shah is a student at George Washington University where she works in local community service while waiting for her posting.

She says recent American media reports about the rape and murder of a volunteer in West Africa don’t scare her.

“It’s kind of dangerous to be a woman anywhere,” she says.

Supriyah's friend Matt Francolino is also a new volunteer. He spent last summer living much like he will in the Peace Corps - in a rural village in West Africa, with no electricity or running water.
“It was the best two months of my entire life!" he exclaims. "And I wondered to myself how is that possible? I didn’t have my cell phone, no computer access, and I realized there were so many more important things that I was looking for in life.”

Volunteers say living with families in those villages is part of what makes the Peace Corp different from other humanitarian organizations - and say they take away at least as much from the experience as they give.

Peace Corps Timeline


Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs