On Sept. 22, 1961, Congress approved legislation signed into law by President John F. Kennedy creating an organization whose goal was to promote world peace and friendship. The Peace Corps has been doing that and more ever since.
Nearly six decades later, more than 230,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 141 countries. We are proud to count ourselves among them and to serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Peace Corps Caucus.
Every year, Peace Corps volunteers arrive in communities around the globe where our presence has rarely been felt. As soon as they step on that soil, they begin to build homes, trust and relationships that will help us make the world a safer and better place. This is something we learned firsthand while serving in the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia.
Volunteers work in agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development. The more than 7,000 volunteers currently serving are building aqueducts, giving computer lessons to teachers, leading financial literacy classes for farmers and so much more.
Vathani Logendran was training to become a youth development volunteer in Botswana when a woman told her about an HIV support group that had changed her life when she was young. After moving to her new community, Vathani, a Roseburg, Ore., native, brought up the idea for a support group to her local health clinic staff. Together, they created a club for HIV positive teenagers to feel supported, safe and empowered. One year later, Vathani reports that she has witnessed participants stand up to bullies, build self-confidence, and become role models for their entire community.
Vathani is not alone. In 2019, approximately 2,400 volunteers in Peace Corps’ youth in development sector will reach over 171,000 young people around the world with training and activities focused on life skills, leadership, gender equity and healthy living practices. Education volunteers are on track to reach over 300,000 students with literacy, math and science skills. Last year, health volunteers reached nearly 160,000 people with comprehensive HIV prevention interventions, including referrals for HIV testing.
As members of the Peace Corps Caucus, we are moved by the work of volunteers and their community members. The work these volunteers do and the support they give to their communities are felt far from where they serve and long after they return home. Supporting the Peace Corps is a smart investment for the American people. Indeed, this organization brings to the world the best that this country has to offer: our citizens.
As returned Peace Corps volunteers, we can confidently say that these Americans don’t stop innovating, volunteering or working when their two years of service are complete.
Simon Williams of Portland, Maine, represents this domestic dividend. Simon joined the Peace Corps and served for 27 months as a youth development volunteer in Ukraine. When he returned to Portland, he founded School Square, an educational technology company that connects educators with local leaders to facilitate mentoring, volunteer and internship opportunities. Simon also coaches his community baseball and soccer teams as a way to give back.
With their grit, ingenuity and can-do spirit, returned Peace Corps volunteers are making communities across America more vibrant and our workforce more competitive. They are stepping into roles as educators, health care providers, engineers, farmers, social workers, entrepreneurs and civil servants. Importantly, they also promote a deeper understanding of other cultures on the part of Americans.
As we reflect on the signing of the Peace Corps Act, authorized 58 years ago today, we are excited about the future. The next deadline to apply is Oct. 1 and application workshops are taking place all over the country. We invite all Americans to consider serving the country and the world as Peace Corps volunteers.
Congressman John Garamendi, who represents California’s 3rd District, and his wife Patti were Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968. Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who represents the 4th District of Massachusetts, was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006.