June 20, 2002: Headlines: COS - Colombia: American University: Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Colombia: Peace Corps Colombia : The Peace Corps in Colombia: June 20, 2002: Headlines: COS - Colombia: American University: Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

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Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

 Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

Celebrating the Peace Corps in Colombia, 1961-1981

This exhibit was organized with the cooperation of the American University Library Exhibits Team and sponsored by the Friends of Colombia. Friends of Colombia (FOC) is a non-profit nationwide organization of Peace Corps Volunteers and staff who served in Colombia. The purpose of FOC is to foster communication among its members, to raise funds to support projects in Colombia, and to promote education about Colombia in the U.S. The exhibit was developed in conjunction with FOC’s “40+ Anniversary Celebration” of the Peace Corps, in Washington, D.C., June 20-23, 2002.

Background on the Establishment of the Peace Corps in Colombia

Close-ups of the Exhibit

Background on the Establishment of the Peace Corps in Colombia

John F. Kennedy, while campaigning for the presidency on October 4, 1960, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, unveiled his hope for a new and dynamic program to aid developing nations through American volunteerism— the Peace Corps. He envisioned American volunteers working side-by-side with community members across the world. In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy challenged Americans to join “. . . a grand and global alliance . . . to fight tyranny, poverty, disease, and war. . . [we promise] to those people 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.”

Kennedy formally established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961, and appointed Sargent Shriver the first director. By summer’s end, more than 5,000 applicants had taken the exams to be Peace Corps Volunteers. In July 1961, programs were planned for Ghana, Tanzania, the Philippines, Chile, St. Lucia and Colombia. Colombia was the first country in the world to invite the newly founded Peace Corps to work with its peoples and the first South American nation to receive Volunteers.

The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers for the country, Colombia I (1961 – 1963), began training in May 1961, and left Washington, DC, in August 1961, for Colombia’s capital, Bogota. Working with Colombian counterparts, these Peace Corps workers initiated community development projects throughout the country. Colombia II and numerous successive groups of trainees followed over the years. In Colombia, Peace Corps programs included rural and urban community development, cooperatives, health education, nursing, educational television, and architecture. From 1961 until 1981, over 3500 Peace Corps Volunteers and staff served in Colombia. Although political violence in Colombia was decades old, it became more intense as drug production increased in the late 1970s; one Volunteer was kidnapped. Thus, for the safety of the Volunteers, Peace Corps ended all of its programs in Colombia in 1981.

The closing of the program in Colombia occurred at a difficult time for the Peace Corps. Due to increasing budgetary constraints, 1982 saw the Peace Corps at its lowest point since 1962, with only 5,380 Volunteers. (At its height in 1966, more than 15,000 volunteers were working in the field.) During the 1990s however the organization’s budget increased and the Peace Corps sent the first Volunteers to serve in the former Soviet Union and China. Today the Peace Corps has a budget of $275 million, with 7,000 Volunteers and trainees around the world. The organization, which has trained 165,000 Volunteers to help in 135 nations, can now look back on almost 41 years of service.

Sources: “About Peace Corps,” http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/index.cfm, accessed June 6, 2002; Patricia Wand, American University Librarian

Close-ups of the Exhibit

The left panel displayed a photograph of President John F. Kennedy and the history of the Peace Corps presented above. The right panel depicted the construction in 1966, of a facility which Peace Corps volunteers helped in designing and building. This facility served as a school, a social hall, and a civic center for the community of Dos Aguas. This isolated rural community is located high in the Andes of southern Colombia.
Collection of Earl Kessler.

The left panel showed the activities of four different Peace Corps volunteer groups. These activities included the organization and building of a cooperative in Miraflores, Boyaca and a school in Pitalita, Huila as well as work as physical education volunteers in Maizales, and work as community development volunteers in Medellin, Antioqua. Collection of Bob Colombo.
The right panel displayed articles about the experiences of two Peace Corps volunteers, published in the 1960s and a certificate of completion to Peace Corps volunteer Patricia Wand.
Collections of Earl Kessler and Patricia Wand.

The main display case presented a number of aspects of modern Colombian cultural history, highlighting the role the Peace Corps played in that history. Included were photographs of Peace Corps volunteers, showing the work they did in Colombia as well as a map of Peace Corps activities around the world between 1961 and 1986. It also contained a map of Cartagena by De Bry from Folder VIII, 1599 and a ceramic church, which was made in Raquira, Boyaca.
Collection of Earl Kessler.

The case also exhibited a number of artifacts from contemporary Colombian life including cooking utensils, a pocketbook, and a shawl.
Collection of Gale Gibson

This case exhibited a number of articles of traditional Colombian men's attire including a striped lanolin woll poncho - ruana, a woven belt - faja, and a pair of men's sandals. Also presented were two brass stirrups, a metal pot, and a copy of The Road to El Dorado by Craig J. Carrozzi who served in Peace Corps, Colombia, 1979-81. The book is based on his experience there. (San Fransisco, Southern Trails Publishing, 1997)
Collections of Patricia Wand and Earl Kessler.

This case held a number of articles of traditional Colombian women's attire including a red wool poncho - ruana, a red wool skirt - falda, a crocheted under skirt, and a pair of sandal-type shoes - alpagatas. Among the other objects displayed in this case were a wooden box for a deck of cards and a scrapbook. Both were made by a cooperative in Pasto Narino, Colombia, which Peace Corps volunteers had facilitated the organization of in 1963.
Collections of Patricia Wand.

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Story Source: American University

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