Preparing for the Peace Corps 60th Anniversary
Next year the Peace Corps celebrates 60 years of service.
Recently I received a gift of several early Peace Corps Volunteer magazines from Patricia (Silke) Edmisten (Peru 1962-64) that she is donating to the new NPCA museum.
Leafing through the material this morning I came across the March 1966 issue of the magazine. In this issue was a special tribute to Shriver, who had just finished his 5 years of service, and an article on Jack Hood Vaughn, the second director of the agency. I don’t remember seeing the issue back in ’66, but then I was in Ethiopia as an APCD and must have been too busy to read it. (You know how ‘demanding’ those Volunteers can be!)
The bulk of the issue had a section entitled:
PEACE CORPS: 1976
That introductory paragraph read:
This began as an anniversary puzzle: If the Peace Corps is five years young in 1966, what will it be in 1976? What new directions will or should it take in the coming decade? THE VOLUNTEER posed the question to the contributors listed on the rights. The results, including proposals for a $25,000 readjustment allowance and moving the agency to Geneva under the direction of Saul Alinsky, are contained in this special 20-page section.
The proposals were written by a number of people including Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President; Chester Bowles, Ambassador to India; RPCV John Arango (Colombia 1961-63); Richard L. Ottinger, US Congressman; Carlos Sanz de Santamaria, Chair, Inter-American Committee on the Alliance for Progress; RPCV Martha E. Welsh (Pakistan 1962-64); Dr. James H. Robinson, Director, Operation Crossroads Africa; RPCV Robert G. McGuire, (Pakistan 1961-63); Assadollah Alam, Former Prime Minister of Iran; RPCV Donald Scharfe (Nigeria 1963-65); among others.
The proposal that attracted my immediate attention was written by William J. Lederer, co-author, with Eugene Burdick, of The Ugly American, the book that caught Congressman John F. Kennedy’s attention and also galvanized the “Silent Generation” into doing something for their country.
William Lederer sent this short article to THE VOLUNTEER under the heading: “A hint for the future Peace Corps.”
Several years ago, Eugene Burdick and I visited the Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the Philippines. We went there as consultants for the Corps.
The event which both of us remembered most enduringly was a small village near San Bernardino. The four Peace Corps Volunteers stationed there had been sent as English language teachers. But what they actually accomplished, I believe, was far more important. We learned about it from the Catholic bishop who was visiting to officiate at a religious holiday.
The bishop told us that in the neighboring valley were the best mangoes in the world, the San Bernardino mango. But their season lasted only about ten days.
The trees were productive and tons of the wonderful fruit rotted, even though everyone in San Bernardino glutted himself during those ten days.
One of the Peace Corps girls came from a farm. She sent home for a small canning outfit, and instructed people how to can the mangoes. The bishop told us that there now is a community canning center and the San Bernardino mango is now known as the “American Mango.”
That night the Bishop said he wanted to show us something and he took us to the public square. In the middle of it were about one hundred young Filipinos dancing the twist: and the music was being provided–and very good music it was–by a four-piece combo.
The bishop told us that one of the Peace Corps men had held dancing class and other one, a musician, had held music school. “Even in this rural community,” said the bishop, “we now have four small bans thanks to your Peace Corps Volunteers.”
On Monday, the bishop said he wanted to show us another thing, if we promised not to disclose to the Peace Corps administration what we would observe. We promised. We went into the classroom where the Peace Corps Volunteer was supposed to be instructing in English. Within the room were about 15 adults. The Volunteer was holding a “Great Books” session. Not all the adults present knew how to read, so the Volunteer was reading section of the book aloud.
When he left, the bishop said that his government had requested the Peace Corps serve the function of teaching English. “But,” he said, “anyone can do that. We have plenty of Filipinos who can teach our children English. But your Peace Corps Volunteers have done three more important things. By instructing us in canning, we have learned how to improve our economy and to get better nourishment. By having instruction in American music and American dancing, we have learned how to enjoy life a bit more. And third, by reading the great books the members of this community are learning how to think.”
The next morning the bishop left for Manila. We saw him to the bus. Just before he embarked he blessed us, and then added, “Remember what I told you yesterday about the three important thing which the Peace Corps is accomplishing here?” Before we could reply, he added, “If the Peace Corps would do those same kinds of things, and as well, all over Asia, I assure you that there would be no room left for Communism.”
WILLIAM J. LEDERER
Taking the bishop’s suggestion to heart as we approach 60 Years of the Peace Corps: what ideas do you have–to change and improve the agency–that might make a difference for the next generation of Volunteers, your daughters and sons, and the children of your friends?
Spell them out in the Comment Section below. We’ll collect them into an article and post your ideas on this website in another article as we get ready for the 60th.