Do you feel the call to serve? As U.S. leaders focus on ways to rebuild interest in service among America’s youth, organizations like the Peace Corps are becoming more relevant. Here are five facts you may not have considered about the Peace Corps, an organization that since the 1960s has attracted young people with dreams of spreading goodwill throughout the world.
Peace Corps Goals
You’re probably vaguely familiar with the Peace Corps, but what is its real purpose? President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961 to promote cultural understanding between the U.S. and other countries. The Peace Corps’ stated goals continue to be: personal fulfillment for its volunteers, community service and bolstering the United State’s image abroad.
Enrollment is Down
Over the course of its history, the Peace Corps has dispatched more than 200,000 volunteers to 139 countries. When JFK established the Peace Corps in 1961, his goal was to have 100,000 volunteers in the field at any given time. In the 1960s, the Peace Corps was popular with recent college graduates, according to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. But in the 1970s, the Vietnam War and Watergate ended many American’s faith in government. Interest in the Peace Corps waned and government funding was cut. In the 1980s, then-President Ronald Reagan reinvested and modernized the Peace Corps by broadening its focus beyond agriculture and medicine to include education in computer literacy and business. Today, CBS News reports that just over 8,000 active members volunteer in the Peace Corps in 77 countries, falling well short of JFK’s original goal.
Various Ways to Volunteer
Traditional Peace Corps involvement calls for two years of service abroad plus training. But there are other ways to serve. The Peace Corps Response program offers 3-12 month assignments for returned volunteers or business professionals with at least 10 years of work experience. The Global Health Service Partnership is a one-year program for doctors and nurses, which places volunteer medical professionals in medical and nursing schools abroad to train healthcare workers in those countries.
Volunteers Who Became Famous
Influential Americans who have served with the Peace Corps work in diverse fields today. Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix, served in Swaziland. Former Senator Chris Dodd served in the Dominican Republic. Bob Vila, the carpenter star of “This Old House,” was assigned to Panama, and female pro wrestler “Chyna” Joanie Laurer served in Costa Rica.
It May Not Be For You
A stint in the Peace Corps may not be for everyone. Volunteers report that while service is life changing and rewarding, it is also fraught with challenges. Volunteers live in poverty and face issues including illness, loneliness, and sometimes failure to be accepted in the communities they serve. The Internet has a wealth of information from active and former volunteers, including their personal blogs. The Peace Corp website also has a page devoted to volunteers who share their experiences.