Happy 52nd Anniversary, Peace Corps!

March 1, 2013 By Alex Friedfeld

Since today is the 52nd anniversary of the Peace Corps, it seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on all the agency has accomplished. For starters, it has come a long way since Senator John F. Kennedy stood in front of a crowd of 2,000 University of Michigan students at 2 a.m. on a cold October night in 1960 and challenged them to serve the United States in the name of peace by living and working in a developing nation.  Less than 6 months later, this bold idea became a critical part of the fabric of America’s foreign policy agenda: the Peace Corps. 

Continuing to be a vibrant force for peace and global friendship

The Peace Corp’s mission emphasizes the need to help develop the capacities of host countries while promoting cross-cultural understanding, and over the past 52 years, this small agency has had more than 210,000 volunteers serve in 139 countries – something I’m sure its current 8,073 volunteers and trainees in 76 countries are celebrating today. 

Whether it’s by promoting seed multiplication projects in Zambia, implementing a national HIV/AIDS prevention program in Ecuador, or advising government institutions and NGOS on how to withstand future hurricanes in Jamaica, Peace Corps volunteers are doing their part to improve the lives of people around the world and increase global stability. 

The Peace Corps is also an important partner, working with USAID’s innovative food security initiative, Feed the Future, and with PEPFAR and the Global Health Service Corps to launch the Global Health Service Partnership (GHSP), a public-private partnership designed to address health professional shortages in developing nations. Meanwhile, collaboration with the Peace Corps has helped Books For Africa – a group dedicated to ending book famine in Africa – become the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent, shipping over 27 million books to 48 African countries over the past 25 years. 

The benefits of the Peace Corps program are as diverse as the projects they work on, but one thing is for certain: the program fosters our country’s great civic spirit and cultivates upcoming generations of American leaders. 

When recently polled, here are some of the Alumni’s thoughts on the program:

  • 93% believe the Peace Corps has improved the perception of the United States globally.
  • 82% think their service was effective in promoting a better understanding of Americans in the communities where they served
  • 74% believed it has helped the U.S. adapt to globalization
  • 66% said it has improved U.S. foreign policy
  • Most believed it has had an effect on improving national security

After returning home, most continue to practice the Peace Corps’s values of volunteerism and charity.  In fact, the percentage of volunteers who continue to volunteer regularly in their local communities is more than double the national rate.  Many of these returnees also enter community, business, and national leadership positions.  Some, like former Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic), are elected into public office. While others, such as Reed Hastings (Swaziland), founder of Netflix, go on to start global businesses.  Others turn into national heroes for their selfless dedication and sacrifice to serving American values through diplomacy, such as Ambassador Chris Stevens (Morocco). And tens of thousands of others become social entrepreneurs, school teachers, and health workers.   

Now, imagine getting all of this for around .001% of the proposed 2013 federal budget.  Or look at it this way, the amount of money spent on the Peace Corps’s 2012 budget was about 11% of the amount Americans paid to see the top ten grossing films of 2012.    

As we toast the 52nd anniversary, it is important to recognize the Peace Corps as the tremendous cost-effective tool that it is and appreciate the integral role it plays in maintaining our global position.  Happy anniversary, Peace Corps, and we wish you many more years of continued success.