Introduction: Abundant Rewards
This is the title of an essay that was written by a Peace Corps volunteer, Laura Stedman, on her reflections of her work in Swaziland serving as a science teacher. The essay discusses her students and what turned out to be her most important accomplishment: giving the children confidence in themselves. In this way, she opened the door for them to learn on their own and to feel that their opinions were important. Once the children began to share their own opinions, she learned a large amount from them as well.
The essay described above sums up my interests in the Peace Corps. To be able to help those less fortunate than you, and in a very concrete way, unlike sending “two dollars a month to help a child” to some informercial, where you never really see the results or are too involved with them. You also don’t get the amazing experience of learning about a country’s culture and customs. Most importantly, through the Peace Corps, you are able to go through the enriching experience of interacting with people, in which case you both learn from each other a great deal and help each other along the path of life. On a side note, through the Peace Corps, we also show that the US is not the “bully of the world” (as Saddam would like to claim), that some of us Americans, if not most, do care about all people, not just ourselves.
Background and Support
Peace Corps is a volunteer service in which Americans are sent to help undeveloped and poverty-stricken countries. The volunteers stay in these host countries for two years. They live with the people, in many cases poor conditions, and serve and interact with the people of the country. In doing this, the Peace Corps has three major goals: “1) To provide volunteers who contribute to the social and economic development of interested countries; 2) To promote a better understanding of Americans among the people whom volunteers serve; 3) To strengthen Americans’ understanding of the world and its people.” Most of all, the organization promotes world peace and understanding between America and all the other nations and people of the world. It is a United States government agency and is funded by our tax dollars, which is a place where I don’t mind my money going to.
How did the Peace Corps come to be? It is a very complicated political web of incidents, but can be summed together quite easily. In the early 1960s, the youth of the nation had grown tired of being idle, and they believed America was becoming pompous and arrogant. They wanted change. They wanted to change the world. Then the first glimpse of that chance came. President Kennedy went to the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960. In his speech that day, he asked the group of ten thousand students present: “How many of you are willing to spend ten years in Africa or Latin America or Asia working for the US and working for freedom?” This idea, the idea that later became the Peace Corps, gave the chance to quench this thirst for change and, more importantly, action.
Development and Recognition
The plan behind the Peace Corps was mainly masterminded by Senator Hubert Humphrey and Congressman Henry S. Reuss. However, Kennedy was the person who articulated it. He did so in his speech at the University of Michigan and many other speeches, including his inaugural address. Especially with his famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (today, this line is somewhat of a motto for the Peace Corps). Also, in March of 1961, after being elected president, Kennedy did as he promised and gave the executive order creating the Peace Corps. Less than half a year later, volunteers were already being sent to Ghana. By the end of 1961, the Peace Corps had expanded to serve a dozen countries and had close to a thousand volunteers.
Within the next few years, the number of countries with programs more than doubled, and in 1966, the number of volunteers reached the highest in the history of over 15,000. In 1981, it celebrated its 20th anniversary and received congratulations from President Reagan. By this point, it had had programs in 88 countries and accumulated almost a hundred thousand alumni. In 1989, the “worldwise schools” initiative was put in place. This plan has elementary and junior high classes going with the volunteers to the countries to help promote worldwide awareness.
In 1995, a new form of the Peace Corps, the Crisis Corps, was created to help nations in cases of emergencies. This brings us up to today.
Today, the Peace Corps continues to help countries in need and to promote world peace. The volunteers continue to help countries in the areas of agriculture, education, health, and trade. However, today, they are also helping countries in the areas of teaching English, business, city planning, youth programs, and even the environment. About six and a half thousand volunteers are serving in eighty-four different countries. The regions in which most of their effort is concentrated are Africa, South America, the Pacific, Asia, the former Soviet Union, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe. President Clinton plans to try to get the Peace Corps an increase in funding of about twenty percent. If he is able to, it is hoped that within the next few years the number of volunteers can be raised to ten thousand, and that the Peace Corps could have programs in even a greater number of countries. This extra money could also help with the new Crisis Corps programs. The Crisis Corps are Peace Corps volunteers who go and help countries suffering from recent disasters by working through non-governmental agencies, relief agencies, and development agencies.
A part of the Peace Corps that is not fully illustrated is the people of countries who have or are receiving aid. Through the Peace Corps, they gain new knowledge to improve their lives, but they also must take the initiative to do so. Hopefully, these people can put the knowledge into use and, combined with the continued aid of the Peace Corps, can empower themselves to improve their lives and hopefully also improve the lives of others.
Without the Peace Corps, the world would not have one of the great opportunities to grow together. One volunteer can affect just one person in his/her host country. However, that person who becomes empowered with new knowledge and hope instills that into his family, who slowly instill this into their village, and hopefully, at some point, the entire country. All the while, America, through the volunteers, is improving relations with other countries, while other nations are able to do the same.
With both parties learning so much about each other and through each other, if this is not an utterly good and important cause, I don’t know what is. One day, these countries that we have helped to improve their lives can hopefully do the same for others. The dream that I see in the Peace Corps is worldwide understanding between all people. As long as the Peace Corps is around, we know at least we are striving in this direction.