President John F. Kennedy
June 10, 1963, American University
Candidate John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 10,000 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and challenged the students to work and live overseas. He implored them to learn about other cultures, show others the values and mettle of the American people, and provide needed technical assistance in many aspects of international cooperation. Two weeks later, he proposed “a Peace Corps of talented men and women” who would dedicate their lives to progress and peace in developing countries.
In March of 1961, Kennedy established the Peace Corps via an executive order, and in November 1961, Congress approved legislation to make the Peace Corps a federal agency within the State Department. In 1981, it was made an independent agency.
Kennedy’s 1963 “Peace Speech” emphasized America should embark on a “strategy of peace” for all global citizens. Thus, implying the pursuits of peace and tolerance are key elements in preventing war.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia from 1973 to 1975. I taught math, science and English in a rural town 350 miles southwest of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. It took 13 hours to get there by bus. I lived and worked with local teachers, spoke their language, ate local food and lived (and thrived) for over two years without running water or electricity. I learned about things so foreign I cannot even begin to explain them.
All my experiences, good and bad, enriched my life and set me on a path to help others for the rest of my life. I am enormously grateful and proud to have served as a Peace Corps volunteer (and 35 years later as a Peace Corps country director). I reported for duty as President Kennedy requested.
Since 1961, approximately 240,000 Americans have served at least two years in the Peace Corps in 143 countries across the globe. They’ve worked in small villages teaching English, promoting health, agriculture, water and sanitation, youth safety and economic development.
All have lived with health and security risks, hardship and loneliness. All have promoted America and American values. All have spread peace by example. All have been on the front lines of Kennedy’s vision.
Peace Corps volunteers are “soldiers of peace” who have shown millions the fabric and heart of America. All embody the best of America. All should be recognized as patriots and veterans in every sense of those words. All should be on par with our brave members of the military who have served to protect us throughout our history.
Thus, I call on President Joe Biden; Vice President Kamala Harris; National Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn; Sens. Marin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján; U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández, Melanie Stansbury and Gabe Vasquéz; the entire 118th Congress; Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham; the entire New Mexico Legislature; and other state legislatures to consider specific actions to widely acknowledge all who have served in the U.S. Peace Corps and outwardly thank them for their service.
Acknowledging the duty and service performed by our Peace Corps volunteers will make America stronger and help to further realize President Kennedy’s vision for peace he so eloquently put forth in 1963. As Kennedy said: “Peace is a rational end of rational men.”
Dr. Victor K. Barbiero is an Adjunct Professor of Global Health, at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University (GWU) and an Adjunct Professor of Global Health at the College of Population Health, University of New Mexico. He holds a Doctorate in Pathobiology and a Masters of Health Sciences (focusing on Famine Ecology), both from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, The Johns Hopkins University. He was a Fulbright Scholar from 1979-1981 in Liberia. He was appointed as the Peace Corps Country Director in Malawi from February 2009 thru November 2011.
He lives in Placitas