Our Quote of the Week expresses some fundamental principles of being a Peace Corps Volunteer that we'd like like to celebrate this week. They are principles that Sargent Shriver cultivated in himself and in all of the institutions he created.
We chose our Quote of the Week in anticipation of the 58th anniversary of President Kennedy's signing of the Peace Corps Act into law, on September 22, 1961. The army of citizen diplomats that came to be known as "Peace Corps" has continued to meet the needs of communities in developing countries for 58 years. Since its founding, over 235,000 Volunteers have served in 141 countries. You can learn more fast facts about the Peace Corps here.
Sargent Shriver spoke these words in 1964 during his tenure as founding Director of the Peace Corps. His address was entitled simply "Where is Peace Corps." By this time, the organization was already well established, with 7,500 Volunteers were serving throughout the world. To put this number into perspective, it is roughly the same number of Volunteers serving in 2019, as we write this.
In the quote, Sargent Shriver makes some important observations. He notes that the Peace Corps "is an instrument of peace." It was designed to deepen bonds between the US and other countries on a local level, one Volunteer at a time. It's important to note that host countries define what Peace Corps Volunteers will work on as per the needs of their own communities. Volunteers are then matched with projects, and after intensive training in the language and culture of their host communities, they go to live and work in that community, typically for a period of two years.
It's also important to note that the Peace Corps puts forward no political agenda. As an institution, it focuses on "how people can live better, not how they can fight better." It is built on the notion that in order to forge bonds and build lasting peace, we must see and serve people on their own terms.
We can't close without mentioning that when Sargent Shriver asks the question, where is Peace Corps? he doesn't simply talk about where Volunteers are stationed and what they have accomplished. He also points out something we'd like to leave you with, which is:
"Peace Corps is right here. It is the real 'other America.' It exists somewhere underneath the tinsel, the swimming pools and neon signs, the racial hatred and the poverty. It is the America we are often embarrassed to talk about unless we hide it in the lyrics of songs; but which in times of need we have ultimately managed to be true to. If we have the courage to commit ourselves to this America--to work for it, to believe in it, then we maybe equal to the hopes John Kennedy had for us."
These are crucial words to think about this week, as our global community also celebrates the International Day of Peace on September 21. We have a tendency to favor the image of America as the world power, the dominant international force. But all around us are examples of this other America to which Sargent Shriver refers, of citizens who lead with humility, kindness and empathy, who fight for justice every day. These examples are everywhere, and indeed, we can be such examples for others. Wherever we may be, let us strive together to connect to the energy of this America, and to be instruments of peace.
To learn more about Sargent Shriver's history with the Peace Corps, visit our Peace Corps photo gallery.