America needs the Peace Corps more than ever.
On March 1, 1961, President John Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship. Today, at age 45, the United States needs the Peace Corps more than ever.
The Peace Corps has three goals:
1) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women.
2) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.
As the world grows smaller - and as economic, ethnic, cultural and religious divisions become more visible and more violent - the Peace Corps stands out as a government program with the promise of building real peace.
Peace Corps volunteers spend two years in a developing country. They work in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment and agriculture. They get to know citizens of their host countries as colleagues and friends. And they get known as Americans, representing to others our country and our culture.
At the time of its founding, the Peace Corps offered one of the few ways that Americans could work in a developing country. It remains one of the best. Peace Corps volunteers gain the knowledge, the skills and often the languages necessary to work with people from different cultures. They learn to solve problems in new ways, and most times with few resources. And, as many returned volunteers say, they usually gain more skills than they can offer.
That exchange has made the Peace Corps experience an important source of the compassion and knowledge necessary to make contributions to our own society as well as to work towards world peace.
In 45 years, more than 182,000 U.S. citizens have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 138 countries. They have brought that experience home and can be found in large numbers in many communities.
Lane County is home to hundreds of returned volunteers who are teaching at our local schools, building local businesses and running nonprofit organizations. Eugene's own mayor, Kitty Piercy, was a Peace Corps volunteer teaching elementary school in Asmara, Ethiopia (the present-day Eritrea).
Lane County citizens continue to join the Peace Corps. Among large universities, the University of Oregon ranks sixth in the nation for numbers of volunteers. Seventy-five UO alumni are currently serving overseas.
The local West Cascade Peace Corps Association was founded by returned Peace Corps volunteers in 1980 to `bring the world back home.' West Cascade has raised support for many international development projects and in 1990 hosted the largest ever National Peace Corps Association Conference.
West Cascade appreciates Mayor Piercy for proclaiming Feb. 27 through March 5 Peace Corps Week. In her proclamation, Piercy encourages us to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Peace Corps and `reaffirm our country's commitment to helping people help themselves throughout the world.'
Poverty is at the root of many world problems. As the United States struggles to address the pressing need for immigration reform at home and respond to the global challenges of religious fundamentalism, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and environmental degradation, it draws on a growing pool of returned Peace Corps volunteers who offer our nation important lessons on how it is to live, as half of the world lives, on $2 a day.
Maggie Keenan serves on the board of directors of the West Cascade Peace Corps Association. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, from 1987 to 1990. To find out more about Peace Corps, contact email@example.com or join West Cascade's monthly potluck by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.