You Can Change History: An Open Letter to Congresswoman Nita Lowey

Well known, and well published RPCV Writer Laurence Leamer ( Nepal (1964-66), has been waging a war of words on The Huffington Post, the Internet Newspaper, for the Peace Corps to double in size.  Today, he sent an Open Letter, via the Huffington Post, to New York  Westchester Congresswoman Nita Lowey  the person who will finally decide the growth of the Peace Corps next year. Read what Larry has to say, and then volunteer once more and call Nita and tell her that we want dramatic expansion and fundamental reform in the Peace Corps.

Dear Congresswoman Lowey:

On June 18th you will have an opportunity to change the course of history.

You are an astute, principled politician who for years has voted for what is right and true, not what is always popular. Time and again you have seen your judgment vindicated by history. You have stood bravely as champion of an America that reaches out to the rest of the world. You voted for NAFTA when that took courage. You were for an opening to Communist China when many in Congress considered that a betrayal. And now you can create the basis of a bold, new Peace Corps that can play a crucial role in the world in the 21st century.

You and I are of the same generation, Rep. Lowey. We were young when President Kennedy in his inauguration address said: “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” And then Kennedy sent out the Peace Corps as his most visible manifestation of that pledge. Cynics thought it would never work, that young Americans were too soft and self-indulgent, but within five years there were 15,000 volunteers and there are 195,000 returned volunteers who have proven the naysayers wrong.

There are only 7,500 volunteers out there now doing good and valuable work, and as an institution the Peace Corps is nothing like the bold force of the Kennedy years. There are 20 countries clamoring for volunteers including Indonesia and Sierra Leone but there is no money for new programs. But with a forceful new director, much needed resources, fundamental reform, and the pent up energy and ideas of thousands, the Peace Corps can engage the world of the 21st century with valor, originality and concern. In doing so we will show that we are a generous people who send out our young and our not so young to teach and to learn about the rest of our world, and that in helping we receive.

The Obama administration’s Peace Corps transition document is a blueprint of what must be done and how it can be done. ( “The Peace Corps, on the threshold of its 50th Anniversary, can once again inspire a new generation of Americans and play a highly significant role at this critical crossroad in American and world history,” the report begins. The document is unstinting in its criticisms of the entrenched bureaucracy and details how it must change. If it is to grow, the Peace Corps must reform, and to reform it must grow. And then the transition report calls for “expanding programs in the 76 counties with current Peace Corps presence and starting Peace Corps programs in at least 25 additional countries.” It will take money to do this, and the report calls for an added $90 million immediately “to restore harmful cuts,” then $550 million in fiscal year 2010 before rising to “its optimal operating level as a $700 million or more agency.”

As the Democratic Chairwoman of the House State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, you have been given a Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for $49 billion. In a time of economic austerity and difficulty, for every dime you increase one part of this bill, you have to find a dime to take away elsewhere, and in doing so for every group or entity you make happy, you upset somebody else.

The original bill included $373 million for the Peace Corps in fiscal year 2010, an amount that would essentially allow no expansion of volunteers and no significant reform. Rep. Sam Farr, a returned volunteer, has written a bill cosponsored by an extraordinary 120 of his colleagues calling for $450 million, a major increase but far less than that suggested in the Obama transition report. In the authorization subcommittee, Chairman Howard Berman took the brave step of amending the bill to include the $450 million for the Peace Corps.

Now it’s your turn. Members of your committee are already on board, and you’ll have strong support. If you appropriate the $450 million, it will highly likely become part of the final bill, and you will have been responsible more than any one person in giving the Peace Corps a new birth.

We are everywhere. Millions of us. Volunteers. Former volunteers. Family. Friends. Concerned Americans. People who have known Volunteers and their work. We are in your district. We are in your state. We are all over America. We are all over the world, from Peru to Mongolia, Fiji to Ghana. We are watching and waiting.

We don’t want to tie up your phones. That’s why we’re asking only your constituents to call 202 225-6506 and express their sentiments. We’re asking those whose Congress member is on your committee to call that representative; their names and numbers are listed below. All others we’re asking to email to express their feelings. We will put together a book of these emails and get them to you and to your colleagues.

If you appropriate the full amount, your decision will be an historic landmark on the pathway to a bold new Peace Corps placing its flag in climes it has never gone, speaking languages it has never spoken, doing work and cooperative endeavors it has never done before. It is in your hands, and I have every confidence that you will do what you have always done.


Laurence Leamer
Peace Corps Nepal (1964-66)

P.S. If you have not seen the Obama Transition Report, it can be read at:

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