Today NYTIMES Morning Briefing Features the Peace Corps
Your Monday Briefing
By ADEEL HASSAN
John F. Kennedy first suggested the idea of a Peace Corps in an impromptu, 2 a.m.address at the University of Michigan, three weeks before he was elected president. He signed legislation creating the organization on March 1, 1961, less than six weeks after his inauguration. Fifty-four years later, this is Peace Corps Week.
The organization has 6,818 volunteers working in 64 developing countries, less than half the record high of more than 15,000, reached in 1966.
But sweeping changes to the application process last year – like allowing volunteers to select their country of service – increased the number of candidates by more than 70 percent.
Today’s Peace Corps volunteers are mostly female (63 percent), unmarried (94 percent), white (75 percent) and youthful (only 7 percent are over 50).
Education is its biggest focus, followed by health services. Forty-five percent serve in Africa, and 23 percent in Latin America.
California provides the most volunteers by far, distantly followed by New York and Washington.
Since the start, the University of California at Berkeley has produced more Peace Corps volunteers than any other school, followed by the University of Wisconsin and the University of Washington.
The University of Michigan, where it all started, is fourth.
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Recently I compared President Obama’s attention to the Peace Corps with President Gerald Ford. Actually, the Peace Corps had more volunteers 2 years before Ford left office compared to Obama’s current numbers.
It is important to note that in 2014, Peace Corps closed programs in the Ukraine and Kenya for security reasons. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea were closed due to the ebola crisis. The current number of serving Volunteers would also reflect the low number of applicants in 2012 and 2013.
I cited 1975. That year Peace Corps left Peru and Mauritius. The following year, it left Malawi, India and Iran. India has been a very large program. Even so, the PC under Ford sponsored more volunteers. Key numbers are number of volunteers, attrition rate and the ratio of support staff to volunteers. The budget itself is meaningless if support staff is bloated and investments silly.
I defer to you as the expert on statistics. But I did double-check my trusty reference: “Peace Corps Chronology 1961-2010,” author by Lawrence (Lorenzo) F. Lihosit. You are right, in 1975, there were 7,015 serving Volunteers. But, in the last year of the Ford Administration, 1976, there were only 5,958. Again, according to your book, this was the lowest number of serving Volunteers since 1962.
Peace Corps reported in 2013, it was unable to fulfill all its requests. But the problem was not money, it was the dearth of qualified applicants.
I don’t buy the lack of qualified applicants argument. That is bureauspeak. There are a lot of problems. We are told that the new application is easier. I do not know but I can tell you that the on-line application used 14 months ago was absurd. Most people never even finished it. There us also a very real problem with assault and rape of female volunteers who today represent two-thirds of the members. I have read all about a new even more bloated staff with statistics departments and special agents in the field and even how country directors are required to fill out piles of forms. What I have not heard is whether the Peace Corps has begun to train all volunteers in self-defense. They can use embassy guards as instructors. I have also not read anything that requires the Peace Corps to post rape rates per country and compare them to the U.S.A. as a touchstone. If a country has a high rape rate, volunteers should know that and have the opportunity of turning it down. This is the Peace Corps not the Martyr Corps.
Oh, Obama is 2 years shy of presidential retirement which is why I cited 1975 for Ford. That is enough excuses for Obama. Let’s face it- he only cared about winning an election and unlike Jimmy Carter, for example, had no intention of keeping campaign promises.