Authored by Christina Eggenberger
The Peace Corps is an independent federal agency that trains and places American citizens in countries around the world to work in localities alongside community members and leaders. The mission of the Peace Corps is “to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals: To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” (“About” n.d.)
There are two mandatory requirements to become a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV). The first is one must be a citizen of the United States. The second is applicants must be at least 18 years old. There is only one factor that can completely disqualify a person from ever joining the Peace Corps; if the applicant has ever been employed by the Central Intelligence Agency (Lenihan, 2015). As of September 30, 2017, there were a little less that 7,400 volunteers serving in 64 countries around the world. 63% are female and 37% are male. The average age is 28 but 6% of volunteers are over the age of 50. 32% of volunteers identify themselves as a minority. The largest portion, 41%, of PCVs are volunteering in the education sector. The largest number of PCVs are serving in Africa (46%) (“About” n.d.).
Many organizations were created in the 1900’s that sent Americans overseas to assist in numerous countries. Colleges and universities, NGOs, and corporate foundations all sent individuals or teams to countries all over the globe. In addition, many developed nations had programs to send young volunteers abroad before the US established the Peace Corps. Many of these organization’s leaders or former volunteers were instrumental in the creation of the Peace Corps when it launched under the Kennedy administration (Rice 1985).
The first time the idea of government sponsored service appeared in Congress was in 1960. In January of 1960, Congressman Henry Reuss proposed legislation (H.R. 9683) to study “the advisability and practicability of the establishment of a Point Four Youth Corps”. The next official to bring the idea to a legislative body was Senator Hubert Humphrey. In the late 1950’s, his staff investigated and found support for the idea of a youth service corps. It became a proposed bill in the Senate (S. 3675). The name Peace Corps originated in this legislation (Rice 1985).
The idea for the Peace Corps was first publicly mentioned at a speech by, then presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy days before the 1960 election (“The Founding Moment” n.d.). On March 1, 1960, President Kennedy signed an Executive Order (number 10924) to establish the Peace Corps as a pilot program. The goal was to place 500 volunteers around the globe by the end of the year. The newly established Peace Corps offices were flooded with applications from potential volunteers and soon over 5,000 applicants had taken the initial screening test (Rice 1985).
The importance of the Peace Corps can be seen through the achievement of its stated, three-part mission. The first goal can be summed up in providing trained volunteers to address local issues around the world. Volunteers teach people to farm or provide proper nutrition for children or encourage people to use bed nets to avoid malaria. The impact made by trained volunteers is felt strongly at a local level but hard to see when looking at the progress of a whole nation (Rice 1985).
The second goal is that the people served have a better understanding of Americans. The Peace Corps was established during a time in history in which many countries were gaining independence from colonizing powers. Many of these newly independent countries were hosts to early Peace Corps volunteers and the volunteers were the first Americans most locals had ever met. The PCVs “erased some stereotyped images of America” and replaced them with people who were there to help solve problems and teach new ways to do things (Rice 1985).
The last goal is to ”promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”. Upon returning from their service, half of all PCVs enroll in graduate school and one third returning volunteers end up in the education field (Chao 2012). One can presume that the experiences of their time in the Peace Corps and the people they worked alongside are brought into the lessons inside classrooms and out.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
The Peace Corps is intrinsically linked to the global philanthropic sector through multiple large-scale programs that take place across multiple countries and just a few are mentioned below.
PEPFAR was established in 2003 is an effort by the US government to stem the spread of AIDS through community-based efforts in “hard-to-reach population” around the world. It was created by President George W. Bush out of the belief that the US is wealthy and privileged and has a moral obligation to help countries struggling with the spread of HIV (“President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” n.d.). The program “is the largest global health initiative for a single infectious disease that has ever been implemented”(Fauci and Eisinger 2018). In 2015, over 1,000 PCVs in over 60 countries reported being involved in HIV prevention in their communities. It is estimated those programs alone reached 172,426 people (“President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” n.d.).
Current Peace Corps efforts around food insecurity are focused through the Feed the Future initiative. Eleven government agencies total comprise the efforts of Feed the Future. Their strategy is to improve overall production, strength communities so they can be resilient in the face of man-made and natural disasters that effect food production and distribution, work with children and mothers to improve nutrition, and create an exchange of best practices within and among communities across the globe (“Global Food Security & Feed the Future” n.d.). Feed the Future has twelve target countries but also works at regional levels in Asia, Central America, and East, West, and Southern Africa (“About” n.d.).
Let Girls Learn began as a response to the large number of girls (62 million) across the globe that are not in school and the fact that education helps the individual girl achieve her dreams but also helps her community in the long term. The three goals of this program are to educate leaders in local communities about the importance of educating girls so they can spearhead their own local efforts; expand opportunities for girls through experiences; and to support PCVs efforts to break down barriers in local communities that keep girls from attending schools. (“Let Girls Learn” n.d.).
Key Related Ideas
- National service is defined as “service in the armed forces” but, to many US government agencies and organizations, has broader meaning to include civilian service. Programs such as Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, are considered national service since civilians are using their time to benefit communities as well as intergovernmental relationships.
- Volunteer is a word to describe the basis of what a Peace Corps volunteer is; “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task”. It is important to note that Peace Corps volunteers are compensated in the standard wages of the country they serve in and not the standard wages in America. Volunteers are compensated enough to meet their basic needs but not to profit long term.
- Cultural competence is a concept that is very important to a Peace Corps volunteer’s time spent in-country. It is defined “as the ability to understand, appreciate, and interact with people from cultures or belief systems different from one’s own.” (“In Search of Cultural Competence” n.d.)
Important People Related to the Topic
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) – John F. Kennedy was a veteran of the Navy, a congressman and senator, and the 35th President of the United States. The Peace Corps was established under his presidency. At the time of his death in 1963, there were 7,000 volunteers serving throughout the world (Rice 1985).
- Robert Sargent Shriver – (1915 – 2011) Better known by his middle name, Sargent Shriver was served in the administration of three US Presidents in roles such as ambassador France and director of the Peace Corps from 1961- 1966). Shriver is also well-known for founding the Special Olympics along with his wife, Eunice Kennedy (Brown 2011).
- Dr. Josephine Olsen – Dr. Olsen is the current Director of the Peace Corps and has served in this position since March of 2018. She was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1966 to 1968 in Tunisia. Her professional life has been a mix of positions in the Peace Corps under various presidents, including H.W. Bush and Obama, as well as an academic career in social work and global health (Fritze n.d.).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- AmeriCorps (https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps) is an umbrella name for three programs that all have a shared goal of improving the lives of Americans and encouraging civic engagement among citizens of the US. AmeriCorps’ three programs are National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), and State and National. There are currently 75,000 AmeriCorps members serving across America. Like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps is an opportunity for national service run by the government but, instead of serving in another country, volunteers service somewhere in the US.
- Fulbright US Student Program (https://us.fulbrightonline.org/) is designed to place recent college graduates and graduate students around the globe researching, studying, and teaching in upwards of 140 countries. It was established in 1946 by the US government to be the “flagship” exchange program for educational purposes. Like the Peace Corps, the Fulbright Program has fostered relationships across borders over the years.
- Global Communities (https://www.globalcommunities.org/) is an example of a nonprofit that the Peace Corps partners with to fulfill their mission. This organization is a partner of the Peace Corps that helps with training and support of programs that focus on supporting orphans and individuals with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda (Heim 2010).
Reflection Question – After learning more about Peace Corps and other national service opportunities, what knowledge, skills and abilities do you have that would apply to one of these programs?
- “About.” n.d. Accessed October 19, 2018a. https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/.
- Brown, Patricia Sullivan and Emma. 2011. “Sargent Shriver, Founding Director of Peace Corps, Dies at 95,” January 19, 2011.
- Chao, Elaine. 2012. “Our Best Diplomats: Women in the Peace Corps | TIME.Com.” March 19, 2012.
- Fauci, Anthony S., and Robert W. Eisinger. 2018. “PEPFAR — 15 Years and Counting the Lives Saved.” New England Journal of Medicine 378 (4): 314–16.
- “Global Food Security & Feed the Future.” n.d.
- Heim, Kristi. 2010. “Peace Corps Director Calls for More Nonprofit Partners | The Seattle Times.” November 23, 2010.
- Lenihan. “Who Can – and Who Cannot – Apply to Be a Peace Corps Volunteer?,” 2015.
- “Let Girls Learn.” n.d. Accessed October 19, 2018.
- “President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.” n.d.
- Rice, Gerard T. 1985. The Bold Experiment: JFK’s Peace Corps. Notre Dame, Ind. : University of Notre Dame Press, c1985.
This briefing paper was authored by a student taking a philanthropic studies course at The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.