This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. It provides an opportunity for former volunteers to gather and share their experiences with the community, but also should serve as a launchpad for area residents who are toying with the idea of signing up.
The Peace Corps has an active program for retirees willing to share their knowledge and skills with struggling nations. The Peace Corps philosophy is one of volunteers helping people help themselves.
The Peace Corps traces its origins to the dream of an inspiring young president. In 1960 John Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.
The Peace Corps was officially established by Kennedy’s executive order on March 1, 1961 and to date more than 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 countries. The mission of the Peace Corps has not changed substantially in its 50 years:
• Help people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women.
• Help promote a better understanding of Americans.
• Help promote a better understanding of the people of foreign nations on the part of Americans.
Today there are 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers and trainees serving in 77 countries. The agency’s annual budget is $400 million.
Sixty percent of the volunteers are women, 93 percent are single and 19 percent of the volunteers are minorities. Volunteers range in age from 18 to 86. The average age is 28, but 7 percent of the volunteers are over the age of 50.
Volunteers commit to 27 months of service, which usually includes 10 weeks of in-country training and 24 months in a foreign nation. About 37 percent of the volunteers serve in Africa, with 24 percent in Latin America, 21 percent in Eastern Europe/Central Asia with the remainder scattered in Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Pacific Islands.
Most of the volunteers serve in an education capacity. Others work on health/HIV/AIDS awareness programs, promoting business and communication technology, improving the environment and agriculture, and youth development.
A Peace Corps volunteer might help a remote village in Africa find and capture a source of water for a village. Other Peace Corps volunteers might help a community recover from a disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami. Still others work in classrooms or in business development.
Volunteers routinely return from their assignments saying that they were life-defining experiences and a great way to launch a career. As Aaron S. Williams, the fourth director in the Peace Corp’s history says, “I know firsthand, based on my experience in the Dominican Republic. Volunteers return to the United States as global citizens, with leadership, language, teaching and development skills that position them well for educational and professional opportunities.”
So where is the Peace Corps headed and how might South Sound residents get involved?
The organization is encouraging former Peace Corps volunteers to return and take short-term assignments. And in this year of the Peace Corps’ golden anniversary, officials are turning to people in their golden years and asking them to consider an assignment.
For aging baby boomers in good health, why not consider a Peace Corps duty station where a lifetime of learning can be put to use along with specific technical skills to benefit people in a foreign land?
Over the past 50 years, the Peace Corps and its stable of volunteers — including 8,400 from Washington state — has made significant and lasting contributions abroad in the furtherance of peace and understanding among nations. South Sound residents who want to be part of this great movement should contact the Peace Corps at 800-424-8580 or at www.peacecorps.gov.
As hundreds of South Sound residents will testify, it’s a life- altering experience.