The rapid global spread of the COVID-19 has demonstrated that no matter how successful America is at fighting this pandemic here at home, we will never stop this threat unless we’re also fighting it around the world. In this series of issue briefs, the USGLC takes an in depth look at the global response and COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable populations, global development and diplomacy, and the future of U.S. global leadership. Read more from our series here.

Last updated August 11, 2021

The Peace Corps is planning for a return to host countries after temporary suspending all activity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and bringing all American Peace Corps volunteers home in March 2020In June 2021, Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn announced that the Agency will soon resume inviting volunteers to serve in countries that have met rigorous health, security and safety standards in early 2022.

Belize is expected to be the first country expected to welcome back volunteers, and the Agency is adapting programs to meet the needs of a post-pandemic world. For example, in Belize, volunteers will engage in literacy work to help local schools recover following COVID-19 shutdowns and disruptions to the education system.

A review of COVID-19’s impact on the Peace Corps

At the outset of the pandemic, overseas travel was canceled, study abroad programs were abruptly ended, and cultural exchanges were stopped for thousands of Americans. This was especially the case for 7,330 American Peace Corps volunteers, whose service overseas was cut short.

This was the first time in the Peace Corps’ history in which all volunteers were called back from their service.  In a letter to all volunteers on March 15th, 2020 the Peace Corps announced a temporary suspension of all Peace Corps operations globally, and that volunteers would be evacuated from all 61 operational countries back to the United States as quickly as possible.

  • Emergency evacuations in the Peace Corps are not common — generally reserved only for situations where there are serious, credible threats to volunteers in a host country, like civil war, kidnappings, and anti-American violence, among others.
  • Evacuated volunteers have the option to apply for the Peace Corps again and potentially return to their communities overseas.
  • While all Peace Corps programs were put on hold, the agency continued to accept applications for assignments starting in early 2022.

The Peace Corps received $88,000,000 under the CARES Act to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. The Agency’s coronavirus response activities included but were not limited to:

  • Evacuating Peace Corps Volunteers and United States Direct Hire (USDH) employees worldwide.
  • Providing support measures to Volunteers and USDHs after evacuation.
  • Providing supplies and services required to mitigate COVID-19 infection at Peace Corps Headquarters and posts worldwide.
  • Evaluating and returning to posts as is feasible.

The Peace Corps adapted to the global pandemic by creating new programs like the Virtual Service Pilot program to connect returned volunteers with host countries and deepen virtual engagement:

  • Following an extensive program review in 2020, the Peace Corps found potential for greater engagement of its volunteers through digital technology including a greater focus on online education when volunteers are in-country.
  • Virtual Service Pilot Participants virtually engage in activities that span the agency’s six program areas: education, health, youth development, agriculture, environment, and community economic development.
  • Since the program’s launch in October 2020, 100 returned volunteers have donated their time to serve digitally in 20 host countries.

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