Our Quote of the Week marks the 59th anniversary of the Peace Corps. On September 22, 1961,
President Kennedy signed the Peace Corps Act into law. Between 1961
until this year's interruption of the program due to COVID-19, over 240,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 142
This week's quote is from the Speech at the National Peace Corps Association's 41st Annual Celebration Dinner in 2002. The event took place only nine months after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, a moment in US history that, while very different than 2020, has many parallels to our own in its destabilizing nature and its necessity for strong leadership, collaboration, and diplomacy. The quote reminds us of Sargent Shriver's intention when he designed the Peace Corps: that it should be an instrument for service, collaboration, and problem-solving so powerful, that it could bring about stability and peace on a global scale. While Sargent Shriver does express joy in the speech at being able to look back at the history of the Peace Corps, he speaks with urgency about the need to look ahead, and to re-imagine a Peace Corps that is able to tackle the biggest challenges of the 21st century. He says:
"But important as it is that we commemorate the last 41 years, I think we must look toward the future! We must learn from our past, yes, and we must also plan for the Peace Corps in the 21st century! [...] We need a vastly improved, expanded and profoundly deeper Peace Corps. Why? Because the capacity to kill one another has far outstripped our capacity to live together. We live in a world of low-tech killing where plastic knives and innocent-looking envelopes can do the job just as efficiently as nuclear bombs. There MUST be an alternative to this endless cycle of killing, not just for America's sake but for all of humanity."
As we continue to struggle through global challenges: a pandemic, violent conflicts, climate change, and the inevitable large-scale migrations and rise in poverty that we're seeing, the unfortunate disruption in Peace Corps service may, in fact, present an opportunity. In this moment of crisis, we must regroup and work towards a more unified future, and we can do so with Sargent Shriver's words in mind. Let us see the world as it is now, let us support leaders who understand the importance of international collaboration, let us reclaim our spirit of service, and let us create an even more powerful Peace Corps that engenders international collaboration and problem-solving on a scale we've never seen before.