Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps!

On March 1st, 1961 President Kennedy signed the Executive Order that creat
ed the Peace Corps. Fifty years later, it just may be his greatest legacy. What started as an impromptu remark at a late-night rally in Michigan has now allowed over 200,000 people to serve in 139 countries, doing everything from teaching children in Nicaragua to drafting laws in Belize.

The Peace Corps was established to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, help promote a better understanding of Americans abroad, and help Americans understand other people. 50 years later it is still fulfilling its mission. President Obama released a statement praising the Corps, and declaring March 1st, 2011, as the official 50th anniversary.

Many volunteers have used the 50th anniversary to reflect on their Peace Corps experiences. These stories range from funny to poignant, and really bring the Peace Corps experience alive.

Examples of Volunteer Stories

Peace Corps life in Ukraine, Nepal, and West Indies

Peace Corps Volunteer Journals

Peace Corps memories: A shard of glass, a sharp lesson

Peace Corps turns 50, raises Ore. memories

Peace Corps series: Peace Corps is about tolerance, respect and understanding

Though the Peace Corps has received much publicity for its 50th anniversary, it is shrinking. There are less than 9,000 Peace Corps members today, down from 15,000 at the peak. Some don’t know the Peace Corps still exists, or think of it as an outdated product of the sixties.

In reality, the Peace Corps, though smaller, has changed with the times and improved greatly over the past 50 years. Peace Corps members today are better trained, safer and make a greater impact than ever before. This timeline breaks down the evolution of the Peace Corps, from Kennedy’s speech in Michigan to the present day.

Interested in the Peace Corps? has all the information you need, but be sure to plan in advance! Applying to the Peace Corps is a competitive process, and it is recommended that you apply 9-12 months before you’d like to be deployed. If you’d like to volunteer aboard, but aren’t sure if the Peace Corps is right for you (or you’re not an American citizen) keep in mind there are lots of other options as well, such as Raleigh International or VSO, among many other international volunteering organizations.

ICP is a member of the ServiceWorld Coalition where we have been encouraging expanding US foreign aid to invest in capacity building and technical assistance to other countries in developing National Youth Service policies and programs. In honor of Peace Corps' anniversary, the Coalition is asking supporters to sign the ServiceWorld International Volunteer Service Declaration (here), supporting the expansion of international volunteer efforts.

Have you worked with the Peace Corps? Tell us your story in the comments!

(Pictures courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library)

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