On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed the establishment of the Peace Corps, an organization to send trained volunteers to spend time in foreign countries performing service projects in cooperation with local people. Over the years, the Peace Corps extended Kennedy’s call to “Ask what you can do for your country” overseas, sending volunteers to do good for other countries as well.
Volunteers have built libraries and sewer facilities, set up market co-ops and schools, and helped in a multitude of other ways some of the world’s poorest and most remote populations. Before they go, volunteers learn the local languages and are trained in the skills they will need to provide the services required.
In the fifty years since it was created, about 200,000 Americans have worked in the Peace Corps serving in 139 countries. In addition to aiding the host country, most volunteers claim that the experience changed their own lives in positive ways. Many have returned to pursue careers in public service both in the United States and internationally. Eleven former Peace Corps volunteers went on to serve in the U.S. Congress.
President Kennedy and the first director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, hoped that the agency would introduce American volunteers to ways of life in foreign nations while providing a nonmilitary, nonpolitical face for U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad. Fewer people have participated than its founders anticipated, but the Peace Corps has proven to be a valuable asset for both the United States and the host nations it serves.
- Government Celebration of Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary
The official Peace Corps Web site offers a history and time line of the organization, listings of celebration events, and President Obama’s proclamation commemorating the anniversary.
(Source: Peacecorps.gov; accessed March 9, 2011)
- A Legacy of Service: Fifty Years of Peace Corps
This short video discusses the purposes and history of the Peace Corps.
- President Kennedy’s Announcement of the Peace Corps
This video clip shows President Kennedy’s speech announcing the creation of the Peace Corps along with clips of volunteers in action.
(Source: cnn.com, February 28, 2011)
- Three Generations Reflect on Their Peace Corps Service
This article includes interviews with several past volunteers discussing their work and how it shaped their lives.
(Source: cnn.com, March 5, 2011)