Peace Corps volunteers were given training before spending two years in countries that had requested assistance. By the end of 1963 thousands of young Americans had volunteered for the Peace Corps providing welcome assistance in over 30 countries. The program expanded over the years and from 1961 to the current day nearly 220,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps serving in 140 countries. The Peace Corps is one of JFK's most enduring legacies.
Facts about Peace Corps
The Peace Corps program traces its roots to October 14, 1960, when as a senator, John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by living and working in some of the most remote corners of the world.
Kennedy challenged the youth of America to devote a part of their lives to living and working in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
JFK's challenge inspired young Americans and ignited a movement that led to the founding of the Peace Corps. Within weeks, students organized a petition gathering 1,000 signatures in support of JFK's idea.
Between his election and inauguration, JFK requested his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to undertake a feasibility study on the idea. Sargent Shriver later became the first director of the organization.
Within months of taking office in 1961, President Kennedy signed executive order 10924, on March 1, 1961, to “promote world peace and friendship” and providing for the establishment and administration of the Peace Corps.
Goals of the program included helping the needs of people of interested countries meet with trained workers and promoting a better understanding between Americans and the peoples of other nations. It was essential for all volunteers to be kept safe.
The USA was in the midst of the Cold War and President Kennedy, adhering to the policy of Containment, was eager to dispel negative images of Americans and spread goodwill into the Third World, helping to stem the growth of communism.
Volunteers had to be U.S. citizens and the minimum age was 18 years old. Applicants had to pass a placement test of "general aptitude" and were then given training to undertake their two year task.
On August 28, 1961, President Kennedy welcomed the inaugural group of volunteers at the White Houseto give them a personal farewell before their departure to Africa.
The first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania on August 28, 1961, before program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961.
Volunteers lived and worked alongside local people sharing skills and forging friendships with local people and collaborating with local governments, communities, schools and, small businesses on community-based projects
Volunteers were provided with housing and an allowance to cover food and other necessities and were expected to adopt a similar lifestyle to those living in the community..
Life as a volunteer was not easy and volunteers faced many challenges including the problem of language barriers and poor living conditions.
By 1966, the number of volunteers peaked, with more than 15,000 volunteers in 52 countries.
The events surrounding the Vietnam War led to disillusionment with the government and interest in the program decreased as Peace Corps budgets were cut.
When the Vietnam War ended in August 1973 enrollment to the program began to increase again. From 1961 - present nearly 220,000 Americans have joined the program serving in 140 countries
The organization is more vital than ever as volunteers help individuals build better lives for themselves in disadvantaged countries.
The Peace Corps remains as one of President Kennedy's most enduring legacies.
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