Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Peace Corps at 50

Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps marked its fiftieth anniversary this year. The idea for the organization was first expressed by then-Senator John F. Kennedy during an early morning speech on October 14, 1960 at the University of Michigan while campaigning for the presidency. On March 1, 1961, shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy officially established the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis through Executive Order 10924.

The Peace Corps has as its mission three goals:
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
In June 1961, Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver announced that the agency had received around 11,000 completed applications, and on August 30, 1961, the first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV) arrived in Ghana to serve as teachers. Since then over 200,000 Volunteers have served in 139 countries, and currently over 9,000 Volunteers are at work in 76 different countries. Major project areas are education, health and HIV/AIDS, business development, the environment, youth development, and agriculture. The average age of Volunteers is 28, although 7% are over 50.

To learn more about the Peace Corps, an interactive timeline features important dates, events, and videos from 1961 to the present. The Peace Corps Digital Library also contains many historical documents contributed by current and returned Volunteers and Staff. In the summer of 2011, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival commemorated the Peace Corps with a special festival program.

For those considering volunteering, visit the Peace Corps website for information on the application process.

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