The Peace Corps started in 1960 as part of U.S. efforts to win the cold war and as an attempt to better the lives of people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It is the brainchild of President John F. Kennedy. The
Peace Corps has sent more than 180,000 volunteers to over 135 countries in its many years of existence.
The Peace Corps is one of the most enduring legacies of the Kennedy administration. Kennedy, then a candidate for the presidency, first mentioned the Peace Corps when he challenged students in a speech at the University of Michigan on October 14, 1960, to dedicate several years of their lives to helping people in the developing countries of the world. The students responded so enthusiastically that, in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, Kennedy repeated his call. The president, concerned with the image of the “ugly American” who lacked compassion for those suffering from disease and the effects of poverty, argued that the Third World needed technical, managerial, and skilled labor. He wanted the United States to forge a new relationship with developing nations.
Kennedy issued an executive order creating the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. Sargent Shriver became its first director. On September 22, 1961, Congress passed legislation authorizing the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.
The agency aims to help the people of interested countries meet their need for trained workers, promote a better understanding of Americans among the peoples served, and promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans. By demonstrating the benefits of the U.S. system and capitalism, it also helped contain communism during the cold war. By respecting the cultures of their host countries, volunteers built a goodwill that was politically useful.
Goodwill was also achieved through good works. Peace Corps volunteers have been road surveyors, nurses, agricultural technicians, engineers, and teachers as well as information technology experts and business development consultants. At the start of the new millennium, the agency also committed volunteers as part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. From its beginnings the agency encouraged women to enroll. African Americans were also welcomed. However, not every volunteer was accepted by the agency.
Since the start of the Peace Corps only one in five applicants has been accepted. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum education required for acceptance. The Peace Corps prefers more education as well as experience in a given field. At the start of the process volunteers are grouped into six programming categories: environment, agriculture, health, community development, business and skilled trades, and education. Volunteers are then interviewed and rejected if they are not U.S. citizens, are under 18 years of age, are under supervised
A Peace Corps volunteer teaches children at the St. Vincents Home for Amerasian Children in Pup’yong, Korea. Peace Corps volunteers
have traveled to more than 135 countries in virtually every continent around the world. probation, have been involved in intelligence organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency, possess dependents, or do not have skills needed by the agency. During the evaluation process the Peace Corps recruitment office looks at an applicant’s motivation, commitment, emotional maturity, social sensitivity, and cultural awareness. A background check is performed, and the agency assigns a worker to a particular nation in need of the volunteer’s skills.
For those volunteers who are chosen, training programs are exhaustive, often running from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. seven days a week. The agency has written its own textbooks for every nation.
The countries that have welcomed Peace Corps volunteers include such African nations as Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, and Tanzania. Latin American and Caribbean countries that have had Peace Corps volunteers include Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Montser- rat, and Nicaragua. In Asia volunteers have served in Fiji, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Western Samoa, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In Europe volunteers have worked in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, and Poland. Former Peace Corps countries include Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, India, Iran, Libya, Liberia, Pakistan, Somalia, South Korea, and Venezuela.