August 15, 2004: Headlines: Speaking Out: The Independent: Peace Corps still working after 43 years

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Peace Corps still working after 43 years

Peace Corps still working after 43 years

Peace Corps still working after 43 years

Peace Corps still working after 43 years

George Ayoub

On Oct. 14, 1960, a merry band of believers believed in the middle of the night. That's when a presidential candidate, standing on the steps of the University of Michigan's student union, asked the 10,000 students, who had waited until 2 a.m. to see him, how many of them would be willing to advance world peace by living and toiling in a developing country.

The candidate: John F. Kennedy, who three months later expanded that idea when he challenged all of us with "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The answer: 170,000 volunteers in 136 countries since March 1, 1961.

The deal: The Peace Corps.

In July of 1961, only four months after the corps' inception, nearly 5,000 Americans sat for the exam to be a volunteer. By the summer of 1966, the Peace Corps peaked at 15,000 volunteers; its lowest number was just over 5,300 in 1982

More than 7,500 volunteers still work in two-year stints in about 80 countries where need is great and hope a fleeting commodity. They sweat and strain to show families and farmers in isolated African villages ways to irrigate. With accurate information they inoculate against ignorance about AIDS/HIV, especially in the Caribbean and Africa, where the diseases are reaching epidemic proportions. They work to bring clean water to those without it.

They do a myriad of things in many places and have done so for 43 years.

The question remains, however: Does the Peace Corps still matter? Can an individual American, cast away in a tiny, remote locale or inside a hurrying city, change and bring peace to a troubled world?

Villages, people, lives

As Mike Bockoven's piece in today's paper details, our friends and neighbors were (and are) part of the group Kennedy was talking about when the Peace Corps was launched. The president said America had "an immense reservoir of such men and women -- anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress."

You have to wonder about peace and progress in a world where war and terrorism dominate the airways and headlines. A world where brave and resourceful young men and women, who could be teaching poor people in Cameroon and Paraguay to grow crops, struggle to keep an elusive peace among the most dangerous miles on Earth.

Of course, the Vietnam War paralleled the first 14 years of the Peace Corps, too, so the coexistence of the war on Iraq and volunteers spreading goodwill throughout the world has precedent.

Then a bunch of folks have to square that whole Matthew thing, blessing peacemakers and calling them children of God. I'm sure the world's other religions also have similar ideas.

Although perhaps hard to quantify in each instance, progress has been made, one village, one person, one life at a time. Here's what a second-generation volunteer said after she accompanied her parents to the Kenyan village where they had worked 25 years earlier.

"My parents ... had absolutely no idea how much influence they had during their two years of service. They did not consider themselves exceptional volunteers. They simply went to class, taught a variety of subjects in the best way they knew how and loved the people they lived among. But returning with me to their village so many years later, they were struck by the undeniable realization that they had indeed changed people's lives."

Eyes, handshakes

The answer, therefore, has to be yes. The world will always have room -- and a need -- for the Peace Corps with its idealistic underpinnings, its wont to do good where it counts and even its sense of adventure.

The world can indeed be a dangerous place, with dangerous people. Today, Americans are often seen as the enemy.

In 43 years, our technology has also shrunk the globe. Instant communications have made for strange neighbors with the same stake in world affairs.

But for 170,000 Americans, the Peace Corps has provided a way to shrink the world, too -- eye-to-eye, handshake-by-handshake and with common toil.

Perhaps, then, that's the legacy and future of the Peace Corps: continuing its purposeful and pristine plodding, showing up at some far-flung place, some bustling metropolis or some barren countryside, and rolling up it sleeves.

All because we still believe it makes a difference.

George Ayoub is senior writer at The Independent. His e-mail is

When this story was prepared, this was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

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Story Source: The Independent

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out



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