Why we need the Peace Corps – then and now

This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease. ― Robert F. Kennedy

For reasons I can’t quite explain, the President’s proposed axing of the majority of nation’s volunteer programs is causing me unique and terrible pain.

Though hunger, homelessness, fake facts and betrayal inflict deeper wounds, the end of the Peace Corps is a stab in the back that I can neither explain nor overcome.  One of the several volunteer programs the President has targeted, the Peace Corps set the pace – for my generation it was an awakening to global awareness. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/us/politics/trump-budget-americorps-peace-corps-service.html?_r=0

As one who has known the privilege of living with hope, I shudder at the pall that this disastrous proposal to half essential volunteer initiatives casts on youth, the same young people who must understand, eventually inherit, believe in, protect and share this nation and this planet.

My focus on the Peace Corps is personal; it was the program that most affected my life and my world awareness.  Obviously I realize that the Peace Corps was then and this is now.  And yet for me the bold venture will always represent a willingness of youth to give, to learn, and, above all, to hope.  My life, and the lives of a generation of hopeful Americans, has been shaped in part by the dream and the reality that the Peace Corps represents.

Though I didn’t have the guts to join the Peace Corps, the tough decision made by my contemporaries inspired me to explore the world writ large.   The Peace Corps, by its very existence, expanded my world. In a sort of backup move, I answered without question the call to serve as ED of a national faith-based youth organization in Our Nation’s Capital, one of a host of similar groups in the front lines of civil rights and inter-faith collaboration.

From Peace Corps friends’ letters (yes, written epistles) I learned of others’ cultures, challenges, needs, how to listen, learn and share ideas and basic truths.  I learned from friends who shed their pretense of superiority as they explored with equals the principles that shaped this democracy.  Friends wrote of their experiences with others whose ways, though different from American ways, were viable and adaptable.  I learned about my friends’ efforts to be authentic seekers and tellers of truth.

Though the Peace Corps faced charges of “do-goodism” at the outset, it was not long before volunteers became frontline emissaries of American good will.

Over the years, the nature of the Corps changed radically.  Volunteers of all ages joined their younger colleagues – Lillian Carter being the poster grandma for a trend of seniors who brought skills, not to mention maturity, that strengthened the organization.   In time, joining the Corps became not so much a bold risk but a viable means of contributing to a “work-in-progress”.

And yet I keep thinking of those early volunteers.  What I realize is the ways in which their Peace Corps experience changed their lives and the lives and institutions they have shaped over the decades.   The expanded world views of those now-aging volunteers continue to make a difference.  Though they may not talk much about their years in Ethiopia or Nigeria the volunteer alumni have not abandoned the spirit of hope they shared with others and that they continue to keep hope alive back home.  https://www.peacecorpsconnct.org/cpages/home

 

 

 

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