“The challenge of the Peace Corps”

“They asked me to talk about ‘the challenge of the Peace Corps’. The challenge is simple to express, difficult to fulfill: PCVs, stay as you are ... be servants of peace ... work at home as you have worked abroad, humbly, persistently, intelligently.”
Sargent Shriver | Washington, DC | September 20, 1986

Our Quote of the Week reflects Sargent Shriver’s vision for Peace Corps Volunteers -- that they should be “servants of peace” both during their tours of service as well as when they return home. As we mark the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Peace Corps Act into law, we are focused on Shriver’s notions of service and peacebuilding as daily practices that we can all incorporate into our lives.

In 1986, Sargent Shriver gave this Speech at the National Conference of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff. Although he had left the Peace Corps 20 years earlier, he still had a very clear and modern vision of what the institution could be in an evolving world. He spoke of “making economic development and mutual service the hard core of our foreign policy, and of our national defense”, stressing diplomacy and economic opportunity as the primary tools for successful international relations.

And he stressed, as he often did, the importance of service, even in an era -- that of Reaganomics and “greed is good”, when it wasn’t popular:

“Service is the heart and soul and substance of the Peace Corps. Service is a discredited word these days. Who wants to be a servant? No one! Service implies servitude, failure to achieve even equality, let alone dominion. Yet the Peace Corps exists to serve, to help, to care, for our fellow human beings. It works its magic from below, not from above. It concentrates on basics - food, health, education, community development.”

Today, we reflect on the importance of Shriver’s words as we celebrate the 62 anniversary of President Kennedy’s signing of the Peace Corps Act into law. As the Peace Corps continues to rebuild after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to watch with anticipation how it will evolve, while continuing to “work its magic from below”.

Like this quote? Read the speech and subscribe to receive our Quote of the Week by email.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
Get the Quote of the Week in Your Inbox