For instance, volunteers now have cell phones, computers, and communications technologies that did not exist in the early years. Imagine being in a small African village in the 1960s or 1970s, miles away from a big city, with lousy roads, poor to no electricity and plumbing, uncertain mail delivery, unable to contact friends and loved ones. It was a much more isolating experience than it is now.
Those early volunteers were true pioneers. Among them, I noted was recently slain Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who served in Morocco in the early 1980s. His life and work embodied Peace Corps principles. He would want us to remember all the early volunteers, and we did, some now elected representatives and officials, some well-known media anchors and reporters, most anonymous heroes and heroines for worldwide peace. Today's volunteers keep the tradition alive.
New fields of work have also emerged with the changing times, I continued. What would these be? Yes, the new work includes HIV/AIDS prevention, environmental preservation, information technology, and small business entrepreneurship, building on and marketing the crafts of poor women and mothers especially. Education and English as a foreign language remain major needs and about 36% of volunteers work in these program areas.
Peace Corps is a people-to-people exchange, personal interactions during which something new is created in the process. That’s really the essence of the Peace Corps experience. "We need more of this," the class agreed.
Next week I’m bringing in two other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) to share their stories with us, one who served in Liberia, the other in China. First-hand stories, on the ground, in the real world: that's one of the best ways to learn about Peace Corps and to keep hope alive.