A man stands behind a podium; his bright blue eyes glistening with an eager objective. His perfectly coifed copper hair gleams beneath glaring press room lights. He glances up from his notes at a room that brims with ardent reporters and photographers like a too-full glass. The reporters gaze at the man from behind iconic wayfarers, pens and paper at the ready. The man looks almost omnipotent; transcendent and sublime. He is about to announce something big. He seems to be looking each reporter in the eye, as if saying, “You won’t forget this day.”
On March 1st, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that he had signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the United States Peace Corps. The young President disclosed that the United States would “send Americans abroad who [were] qualified to do a job.” He said it would “not be easy,” and that “none of the men and women [would] be paid a salary. They [would] live at the same level as the citizens of the country in which they [were to be] sent–doing the same work, eating the same food, speaking the same language. ” He then proceeded to list fields in which he hoped to see grow within the organization: fields like teaching, agriculture, and health. But then he paused. He smiled to himself and glanced around the room. With a look of utter sincerity, he eyed each reporter and said, “I’m hopeful that it will be a source of satisfaction to Americans, and a contribution to world peace.”
Fifty-five years later, and the Peace Corps has lived up to, and in many ways, exceeded, President Kennedy’s expectations. It has represented everything America stands for, believes in, and hopes to achieve at home and abroad. Still, the Peace Corps that President Kennedy spearheaded appeared a lot different than the Peace Corps of today. The Volunteers of yesteryear didn’t have computers and cell phones like today’s Volunteers; they didn’t have Sriracha and peanut butter sent from home either. However, world peace and friendship have managed to withstand the sands of time, and the Peace Corps’ three main goals still remain:
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 peoples served
To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
Peace Corps Week
Each year, during the week of March 1st, we celebrate Peace Corps Week. This year, it runs from February 28th to March 5th. It’s a week in which we celebrate Peace Corps Volunteers, past and present, and the vision that a young President never truly got the chance to witness.
Each Peace Corps Week follows a theme, with this year’s theme titled, Highlighting Happiness: What Does Joy Look Like in My Peace Corps Country? Each year, the Peace Corps encourages current Volunteers to create two-minute videos that encapsulate the year’s theme. Volunteers have spent months creating their videos, and as of last week, several finalists were chosen based upon their incorporation of the theme and promotion of cross-cultural understanding. Public voting occurred via Facebook from February 19th to the 27th, and the finalists will be featured in a public screening in Washington, D.C. on March 1st. The winner receives an iPad, which is a pretty awesome prize, considering the Peace Corps salary (or lack thereof). Last year’s Peace Corps Week theme was Host Country Heroes, and this was the winning video:
You can read more about Peace Corps Week activities here. Also, consider wishing the Peace Corps a happy birthday via the website Thunderclap. You can connect to it with Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and Thunderclap will post a 55th birthday wish on your behalf. Help spread the love and friendship that President Kennedy envisioned so many years ago.
A Peace Corps Shoutout: Rose Marie Araya
To commemorate the Peace Corps in my own way, I’ve decided to create a blurb about a special, inspiring person in my life: Rose Marie Araya. She’s the badass riding the camel at the Pyramids of Giza in my featured image. She’s my mom’s cousin, and she served in Ethiopia from 1966-1968. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, and decided to join the Peace Corps because her older brother Tom served in Thailand’s agriculture sector. She says she wanted to follow in his footsteps because he was creating a positive impact, and she wanted to do her part in making the world a better place.
In Ethiopia, Rose Marie worked at Haile Selassie I University in Addis Ababa, re-cataloging collections from the rather outdated Dewey Decimal System to the more common Library of Congress Classification. She says she loved how friendly the Ethiopian students were, but also admits that learning the language was rather difficult. However, that language barrier mustn’t have hindered her too much, because Rose Marie eventually married an Ethiopian student and had two children with him. She remained in Ethiopia for a number of years after Peace Corps, and mentions that her service helped her realize how naive she was, but that it also helped her combat that naiveté. She says Peace Corps changed her life in infinite ways, and she has never really been the same. Thanks for inspiring me to embark on my own Peace Corps journey, Rose Marie! You’re an example of everything President Kennedy hoped for, and quite a bit more.
“My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” – John F. Kennedy