Mar 23

A Poignant Anniversary for the Peace Corps

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 03/23/2020 12:40PM | Quote of the Week | Peace Corps | Service

A Poignant Anniversary for the Peace Corps

A Poignant Anniversary for the Peace Corps

Our Quote of the Week marks the 59th anniversary of Sargent Shriver's appointment as the first Director of the Peace Corps. As with many of our institutions, today the Peace Corps faces an unprecedented situation, that of recalling all of its current volunteers from abroad because of the risks posed by the coronavirus. The ramifications of this decision, as those of many decisions that institutions have been making during this difficult time, are painful and far-reaching.

On March 22, 1961, President Kennedy appointed Sargent Shriver to lead the Peace Corps. The President had just signed an executive order to create the organization, and he tasked Sargent Shriver with building the organization from the ground up. In the months that followed, Sargent Shriver built the team and the infrastructure to run the Peace Corps, began speaking to communities around the world to see what their needs were, and enrolled volunteers to fulfill those needs. He also spoke individually with members of Congress to gain their support for the Peace Corps, so that it could be instituted not just by executive order, but through legislation; this effort resulted in the Peace Corps act of 1961. All of these efforts required energy, creativity, determination, collaboration, and persistence, not only on the part of Sargent Shriver, but for everyone involved in the organization's creation.

Today, the Peace Corps' 7,300 volunteers have been recalled to the United States because of the health risks of the coronavirus, and their service has been categorized as completed. In addition to the heartbreak that the volunteers (and their host communities) face at this development, these volunteers will, like many of us here in the US, be suddenly be dealing with economic instability, as they scramble to find housing and employment. We urge our leaders to remember these volunteers, as they make provisions for those whose livelihoods have been impacted by this crisis. We also urge the larger community to reach out to these displaced servant leaders. No matter what their professions or skill sets, Peace Corps volunteers have several qualities in common that are crucial for this moment: they are resourceful, they are resilient, they are collaborative, and they have an acute spirit of service. Finally, we urge all of us to remember that for 59 years, Peace Corps has empowered citizen diplomats to serve abroad, to give the best of themselves, and to, as the Peace Corps' mission states, "promote world peace and friendship." When this crisis is over and communities abroad once again look to the US for "more Peace Corps volunteers," may we heed their call.

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