June 25, 2002 - Statement at the Senate Hearings: Former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider: "I strongly support the fundamental purpose of the Act"
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June 25, 2002 - Statement at the Senate Hearings: Former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider: "I strongly support the fundamental purpose of the Act"
Former Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider: "I strongly support the fundamental purpose of the Act"
Six months ago PCOL began coverage of the new Peace Corps legislation that Senator Dodd and Congressmen Farr and Udall were preparing. On April 4, Congressman Sam Farr announced his proposal for legislation including Peace Corps independence from Freedom Corps, the Shriver Peace Fund, increased Peace Corps Support Staff, and a robust Peace Corps advisory board. On May 20, the first version of the legislation became available for comment and we reported on it and provided comment on the legislation and an exclusive interview with Congressman Farr on the legislation. On June 16, Senator Chris Dodd announced he would be introducing the new legislation in the Senate and provided another draft version which we analyzed and commented on.
Now the legislation has been introduced into both houses of Congress and on June 25, Senator Dodd held hearings in his Senate Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over the Peace Corps and we were there to provide coverage of the hearings. Please read this special report which includes a copy of the final bill as it was introduced in the Senate, our reporting on the hearings, a report on the hearings from the Orange County Register and from John Coyne and the statements of the following five individuals who were invited by Senator Dodd's office to testify on the bill.
Gaddi Vasquez, Director of the Peace Corps Read and comment on the prepared statement by Mark Schneider on the New Peace Corps legislation at:
RPCV Mark Schneider, Former Peace Corps Director and Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group
RPCV Dane Smith, President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA)
RPCV John Coyne, founder and editor of the Peace Corps Writers and co-founder of the Peace Corps Fund
RPCV Barbara Ferris, President of the International Women's Democracy Center and co-founder of the Peace Corps Fund
Testimony by Mark Schneider to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on to Peace Corps*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Testimony by Mark Schneider to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on to Peace Corps
Tuesday, 25 June 2002
Mr. Chairman, it is a special privilege to appear before you and the members of this Committee to testify on the importance, value and heightened need for the Peace Corps in the post 9/11 world.
Let me say at the outset, I strongly support the fundamental purpose of the " Peace Corps Charter for the 21st Century Act" introduced by you, Mr. Chairman, and others here in the Senate and its companion in the House of Representatives to double the size of the Peace Corps to 15,000 Volunteers over the next five years. As Director, I was proud that we had moved toward the congressionally mandated goal of achieving 10,000 Volunteers. When I left the Peace Corps, we already had matched the highest number of Peace Corps Volunteers in the field since 1974-7300.
Now I am sure the same bipartisan coalition, led by you and the other RPCV members of Congress, supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and others, will help President George W. Bush restore the Peace Corps back to the highest levels of the 1960s. I applaud his decision and his recognition of the Peace Corps contribution to development, understanding and peace around the world.
Just this past weekend, we all celebrated the fortieth plus one anniversary of the establishment of the Peace Corps. I commend the Bush Administration for this 40th anniversary initiative. Of course, Sarge said it should be 50, 000 not 15,000.
In October 2000, as a Peace Corps Director, I stood at the student union on the campus of the University of Michigan at 2. a.m., where 40 years earlier, then candidate John F. Kennedy launched the idea of the Peace Corps. On March 1, 1961, he signed an executive order creating the Peace Corps and a few months later Congress followed with the Peace Corps Act to complete that call to service and international engagement. Even as it was being passed, the Peace Corps' first director, the Honorable R. Sargent Shriver, had the first Volunteers on their way to Ghana and Chile and the Philippines.
The idea of a Peace Corps to join the struggle of people in developing countries across the globe and to strengthen international understanding, appealed to young Americans on campuses all across the nation. Now 165,000 Volunteers have served in 135 countries. As you have said frequently, Senator, as Volunteers we may have contributed a little something to our host community and to our host country; but we were the greatest beneficiaries of that experience. And we brought that knowledge back home.
As a Volunteer, I learned of the realities of poverty in El Salvador, of the way that repression denies human dignity, and of the courage of men and women who risk everything to give their children a better life.
I can attest, that after four decades, after visiting Volunteers in 21 countries as Director, that they too not only are contributing but also are learning skills, leadership and international awareness in what may be the most effective graduate education ever conceived.
Sarge Shriver said, "The road to peace is no highway. It is racked with wars, riddled with mistrust and suspicion…If humanity ever hopes to pave this road, it must accomplish an understanding even deeper and more durable than the world has ever known."
The Peace Corps has been trying to pave that road ever since.
- On my trips, I met a half dozen government ministers who were students, colleagues and friends of Volunteers. Ask yourselves, how many million students have been taught by Volunteers, or whose teachers have been trained by Volunteers?
- The Director of the WHO campaign that eradicated smallpox from Ethiopia told me it never would have succeeded without the Peace Corps. How many men and women are alive today because Volunteers were part of the immunization campaigns to eradicate smallpox and polio and measles?
- How many families have avoided death from diarrheal diseases because Volunteers have explained, in 180 different languages, how to avoid waterborne diseases?
As Director I was privileged to witness the dedication, energy and ingenuity that Volunteers were bringing to their communities. After 9/11, I know there were those who asked whether Peace Corps is still needed, is still safe, is still a priority.
My answer is yes, yes, and yes. Peace Corps Volunteers still are needed at the development core of our work in carrying out the first goal of the Peace Corps-teaching in classrooms, carrying health and nutrition messages to distant villages, and working with farmers to find more sustainable ways of growing food.
Today's Volunteers also are on the cutting edge of change.
--They are answering the challenge of globalization by bringing computers and information technology to the task of development-not only in the cities but also in rural villages.
--They are answering the challenge of HIV/AIDS by carrying education and prevention awareness throughout sub-Saharan Africa. I am proud to have required that all Volunteers in Africa be trained in HIV/AIDS prevention education-last year Volunteers reached more than 376,000 people with HIV/AIDS prevention education activities. And the bill's proposal to train more Volunteers on addressing global health risks is to be commended, but with the caveat that the training obviously must be appropriate to the Volunteer's country of service.
--And Volunteers also are beginning to play a role in helping countries coming out of civil conflict find a new future. In most instances, Crisis Corps Volunteers begin that process-experienced Volunteers who can be brought to back to help countries respond to natural disasters, so too can they help their countries respond to the aftermath of conflict, always after full evaluation and assurance of conditions of safety and security.
I would like to urge a renewed effort to increase Crisis Corps capacity to serve in HIV/AIDS support and in post conflict situations. More can and should be done.
We know there are jobs waiting to be done by Volunteers. And we know there are countries who want Volunteers to fill those jobs. I am pleased that the bill recognizes that upping the number of Volunteers and the five-year funding authorization also requires increases in funds for staff, in the countries, in Washington and in our recruiting centres, as well as for strengthening programs and for strengthening the measures that assure the safety and security of Volunteers.
Also, with respect to recruiting, I want to commend the Chairman for including a modest increase in the amount of the adjustment allowance provided to Volunteers, and for exploring the possibility of greater student loan forgiveness. Currently only the Perkins student loan program provides for a volunteer reducing his or her repayment obligation by 15% each of two years. Otherwise the current law and regulation merely provide for postponing interest payments while in Peace Corps.
I would urge the Committee to consider measures to encourage the Master's International program. It is a marvellous concept, which began before I arrived but which I tried to strengthen. It provides for applicants to apply both for a master's degree program at a participating university and to the Peace Corps. Usually, it means all of the course work is done in the first year and the Peace Corps service occurs in the second and third years and fulfills the thesis, or fieldwork requirement. The Volunteer finishes the Peace Corps and returns home with a Master's Degree as well. I believe some incentive funding could multiply this program far beyond the 40 colleges and universities, which currently participate. It also could help attract more Volunteers with more specialized training that some countries would like to see for specific needs.
Peace Corps Volunteers also still are the best way to truly convey an understanding of who we are as a people. And the second goal of the Peace Corps is even more crucial in a world where the Unites States is the last remaining super power and a lightening rod of envy for too many raised in frustration and incapable of coping with the clash of modern and traditional cultures.
After 9/11, I thought about our Volunteers around the world and wondered about the reaction. As in times past, the Volunteers were the only way that people in villages around the world could convey their sympathy and caring.
In Jordan, a Peace Corps teacher received this letter from her Palestinian student: "Please accept our, the class and I, condolences and our deepest sorrow toward evil acts that took place in the United States. My God bless the victims, their family and their loved ones. After all, we are all citizens of the world."
And in China, a Volunteer had to teach class soon after she learned of the attack. As usual, she started to write a word on the board at the start of the class that they all could discuss. Flustered, she just wrote the word, "Terrorism". The whole class of students immediately started crying. They stood and each hugged her, saying how sorry they were for her, for her family and for America. This public expression of emotion was "not normal" in China, and the caring response of her students was particularly moving to her.
When Walter Cronkite was asked what one could do to answer the terrorists, he responded, "Join the Peace Corps."
What he summed up in those words was an important lesson for all of us:
First, we have to engage around the world even more than in the past and there is no better way for individual Americans to engage than by joining the Peace Corps.
Second, we still have to break through the mythology about this country and the misconceptions about our people and the Peace Corps remains the very best way to accomplish that mission-as Volunteers live, work and play with their host country colleagues.
Third, we need to find more ways to help nations break through the constraints of poverty, inequality, repression, and fear. Peace Corps does work to reduce those conditions and while we cannot eradicate them entirely, it also is worthwhile that others see us trying.
That message also underscores the rationale for the independence of the Peace Corps, which I am pleased to see underscored in bright letters, within the proposed legislation. It is not merely that the Peace Corps must maintain its own independence in every sphere but it must be recognized by the rest of our government and be seen by other governments as fully independent.
Every Secretary of State has sent a message to Ambassadors around the world reaffirming that, and I quote the l983 cable under President Reagan, "to be effective (Peace Corps) must remain substantially separate from the formal day-to-day conduct and concerns of foreign policy because of its unique people-to-people character. As former Secretary of State Rusk wrote to the chiefs of U.S. missions: 'To make the Peace Corps an instrument of foreign policy would be to rob it of its contribution to foreign policy'…." From the start Peace Corps was to be independent. If anything has protected Volunteers across the globe, it has been that separateness. Whatever is done with this legislation, maintaining the Peace Corps independence is crucial.
In relation to the third goal of the Peace Corps, helping improve our own awareness and understanding of the peoples and nations of the world, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, like those who came here this past weekend, have been engaging in their communities and their nations in ways even President Kennedy never would have imagined.
It happens naturally, but a few programs have developed to enhance that experience including Worldwide Schools, the National Peace Corps Association, now the new Peace Corps fund and countless other Returned Peace Corps Volunteer organizations around the country. My one suggestion about the proposal in the bill to help provide for some direct funding of such groups through the Corporation for National and Community Service would be to make it even broader so that any organization of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers would qualify for direct financing of its social projects-without necessarily going through an intermediary.
With respect to the third goal, I also would urge the committee to examine how best to revitalize the Peace Corps Fellows program, so that all those who want to participate in this program can do so. Returned Volunteers who want to go to graduate school can get some of their tuition covered if they agree to work in an underserved community for two years while they get their degree.
Mr. Chairman, President Kennedy said, "Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people…" The Peace Corps has been helping to build that peace. The bill before the Committee can help give countless other Americans the chance to become part of this magnificent 40-year legacy of making a difference.
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