Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps

Elissa Cary, Sylvania Advantage graphic designer and daughter of RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) Fran Cary, in the lobby of Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC, with JFK poster; PC 50th anniversary logo.

“Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” -- Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, 1961-1966

I feel blessed to be part of the Peace Corps as a returned volunteer from Ukraine, where I served for two years (2009-2011) in the Russian-speaking village of Starobelsk, Lugansk oblast, in far-eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. It was a transforming experience of a lifetime.

September 22, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act in Congress by president John F. Kennedy. I remember the sense of optimism when it started in 1961, that Americans could help work for peace in the world from the bottom up, by living in another country, learning its culture, and sharing our skills and optimism. I was a student at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, with hopes of going to the University of Wisconsin to continue studying American History. I followed the Peace Corps from those days forward. I joined in April 2009, and turned 70 years old in Ukraine!

Over 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries since 1961. Today there are 8600 volunteers in 77 countries. The world has changed since then, and so has the Peace Corps, for some people not fast enough, for others at a good-enough pace given the difficult process of transitions. We contemporary PCVs are not as isolated as the early volunteers, who didn't have the internet, cel phones, iphones, and the technology that keeps us connected. Current PCVs wonder how our predecessors, the pioneers, did it in those early days; we are lucky we can stay in touch with loved ones.

Also, we are working on a host of different issues, from agricultural development to AIDS/HIV education, information technology, non-governmental organization development, human rights and environmental protection. We are in villages, towns and cities around the globe, "a legacy of service that has become a significant part of America’s history and positive image abroad" (

So Kudos to the Peace Corps on its 50th Anniversary! May it have 50 more years of growth and success in its ongoing grassroots efforts toward peaceful change and positive relations around the world.

Here is a listing of some of the Peace Corps' newest programs and projects (http://www.nationalpeacecorpsassociation.0rg/):

HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean
The Peace Corps has intensified its role in the global effort to fight HIV/AIDS by training all Volunteers in Africa as educators and advocates of HIV/AIDS prevention and education. Regardless of their primary project, all Volunteers are being equipped to play a role in addressing the multiple health, social, and economic problems related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Peace Corps programs in Botswana and Swaziland are devoted entirely to fighting the disease. In addition, efforts are expanding into the Caribbean, where more Volunteers are focusing efforts on combating HIV/AIDS.

Information Technology
Volunteers provide technical training and support to groups and organizations that want to make better use of information and communications technology. They introduce people to the computer as a tool to increase efficiency and communication and to "leap frog" stages of development. Volunteers teach basic computer literacy skills, (e.g. word-processing, spreadsheets, basic accounting software, Internet use, and webpage development) and they introduce host communities to e-commerce, distance learning, and geographic information systems.

Expanding Into New Countries- Africa Region
Since Ghana received the first Peace Corps Volunteers in 1961, more than 60,000 Americans have served in 46 African countries. The Peace Corps continues to enjoy strong cooperation and support from the people of Africa. At the end of fiscal year 2011, some 3,000 Volunteers and trainees will be on board, working in 25 countries. In 2003, the re-opening of the Chad, Botswana, and Swaziland programs poised the Africa region for substantial growth.

Europe, Mediterranean and Asia Region
More than 48,250 Volunteers have served in the Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region since 1961. EMA has well over 2,500 Volunteers and trainees working in 20 countries, most of which are undergoing rapid economic and social changes. Throughout the region, Volunteers work with governments, local organizations, and communities to provide needed technical expertise and promote cross-cultural understanding. Together, Volunteers and their counterparts work to address changing needs in agriculture, business, education, the environment, and health.

NIS countries
I would add to the above description the work volunteers are doing in NIS countries, the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union. Volunteers work in all areas and on all issues relevant to the transitioning economic and political conditions of these former Soviet republics. It is transformative work at the local level, step by step. It is about getting to know these countries and their cultures, and about them getting to know about America. Where there were enemies, there are now friendships. Where there was fear and hate, there is now acceptance and tolerance.

Inter-America and Pacific Region
Since 1961, more than 73,000 Volunteers have served in the Inter-America and Pacific (IAP) region, in more than 46 countries. Today, more than 3000 Volunteers work in 24 posts in all six of the agency’s sectors: agriculture, business development, education, the environment, health and HIV/AIDS, and youth. The Fiji program was re-opened in 2003 and a program in Mexico opened for the first time in 2004.

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