Peace Corps At Day One, # 4

In the very early days of 1961, the experts had concluded that a Peace Corps of 300 to 500 Volunteers would be a realistic and worthwhile pilot program. The estimate was revised when Shriver and a Peace Corps “team” (then Presidential Assistant Harris Wofford and Peace Corps Assistant Franklin H. Williams and Edwin Bayley, among others) returned from a trip to Africa and Asia in May of 1961.

Requests from world leaders for Peace Corps Volunteers, plus demonstrated interest at home, led to a revised estimate of 500 to 1,000 Volunteers by December 31, 1961, and 2,400 by June 30, 1962, the end of the Peace Corps’s first fiscal year.

The governments of Ghana, Nigeria, Tanganyika, India, Pakistan, Malaya, Thailand, Colombia, Chile, St. Lucia and the Philippines were the first to request Volunteers.

These requests covered much of what, in the first years, had come to be considered the Peace Corps spectrum: teachers, nurses, medical assistant, community development workers, agriculturists, home economists, surveyors, engineers, lawyers, journalists, mechanics, bricklayers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and the wide variety of skills above that of common labor and generally below that of the expert.

In the period of March to June 1961, Peace Corps policies were set. Experience has shown that these early basic policies were well-conceived. They worked.

First, it was decided that the Peace Corps would go only where invited.

Second, Volunteers overseas would work for the host government or for a private agency or organization within the foreign country, serving under host country supervisors, and working with host country co-workers wherever possible.

Third, Volunteers would not be ‘advisors’ but ‘doers.’

Fourth, Volunteers would serve for two years, without salary or draft exemption.

Fifth, Volunteers would be provided a living allowance enabling them to live in a modest manner comparable to the circumstances of their co-workers.

Sixth, Volunteers would enjoy no diplomatic  privileges or immunities, have no PX or commissary rights, receive no “hardship” or cost-of-living allowances and have no vehicles unless needed for their job.

Seventh, Volunteers would learn to speak the language of the host country, learn to appreciate its custom, be able to discuss adequately and intelligently the United States when questions, refrain from political or religious proselytizing, and set as the standard of their success how well the requested j ob was fulfilled.

Eighth, a termination allowance of $75 for each month of satisfactory serve was established to  help the Volunteer get started again in this country.

Ninth, the Peace Corps would be open to all qualified, single American above 18 and for married couples with no dependents under 18, where each had a needed skill.

Tenth, a college degree would not be a requirement for service. A special effort was made to attract farmers and craftsmen who possessed skills and experience but no degrees.

Eleventh, the highest medical,  psychological, and character standing were established and it was determined that final selection would be made to at the conclusion of training.

Twelfth, it was decided that the hardships of Peace Corps life would be featured in recruitment so no candidate would misjudge the terms and conditions under which he volunteered to serve.

Finally, candidates, trainee, and Volunteers would be told they could resign from the Peace Corps at any time. The Peace Corps wanted only those who served freely, a decision now made every day by each Volunteer.

With the goal of 500 to 1,000 by December 1961, with these standards, the Peace Corps was ready for the selection process to begin.

One Comment

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  • John:
    Are you vetting stories about Peace Corps at Day One for some purpose? Fascinating to me, of course.

    My personal PC story isn’t about day one, but it might be about day four or five…

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