The Peace Corps turns 52 on March 1, and is encouraging the nation to join it in celebrating this week leading up to it as “Peace Corps Week.” In my experience as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), the Peace Corps is widely recognized, but its impact is narrowly understood. Beyond the idealistic values it espouses, the Peace Corps is a mechanism through which we as Americans can make our country safer and spend less of our tax money on conflicts abroad.
John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961 in order to “promote world peace and friendship.” This could have been motivated by a genuine desire to spread goodwill, or by a need for better global public relations. In either case, the Peace Corps has three goals:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Many still wonder why we bother with a Peace Corps, why it is worth the tiny percentage of our taxes that it requires. All humanistic and idealistic reasons aside, when the Peace Corps is effective, it not only saves American lives, but also saves Americans money. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) directly affect at least one million lives each year, which means each of the 8,000 volunteers is positively affecting 125 others abroad. Additionally, these 8,000 are cheap, costing citizens roughly the equivalent of what the military spends on dog tags each year.
With each person and each community affected, PCVs give foreigners a good impression of the United States, while combating issues like poverty and poor health, thereby spreading stability and reducing the threat to America. After all, economically and politically stable countries that like America pose no threat. The more PCVs succeed, the fewer soldiers need to risk their lives, and the less we need to spend on costly conflicts.
Peace Corps Week is a good opportunity for us to support the organization and spread its core values by focusing on the third goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans and on service projects of our own. Here are some of the daily activities for PC Week, suggested by the Peace Corps (see the full list here and note that I’ve added a few of my own):
Wednesday – Invite the World to Your Table
- Organize a global potluck and ask people to bring their favorite international dishes.
- Teach some of you friends how to make a traditional ethnic food or drink.
Thursday – Foster Global Citizenship
- Write a letter to the editor of a local or national publication highlighting the impact of development work.
- Connect with an international organization based out of your area that combats poverty and other problems.
- Write an article for PolicyMic about a global issue you feel is being overlooked.
Friday – Champion RPCVs as Global Professionals
- Connect a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer with a local school or organization so that they can help educate them on global issues.
- Tag your organization or business as an “RPCV-friendly” workplace on your website or in social media.
- Connect with three RPCVs in your industry on LinkedIn.
Saturday – Act Locally, Influence Globally
- Organize a group (e.g. friends, co-workers, classmates) to volunteer together on a local service project.
- Find an inspiring Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) project and support/promote it.
- Pledge 52 volunteer hours of service for the year; look for local opportunities at www.serve.gov.
I’m proud to have served in the Peace Corps and to be starting a company that continues some of the work I started during my service by leveraging the global Peace Corps network to promote underdeveloped communities around the world as tourist destinations. (Learn more and get involved here.) The Peace Corps, and organizations like it, make the world more stable and therefore safer, allowing us to focus on improving our lives, without the fear of conflict. Join me and the over 200,000 active and returned volunteers in celebrating Peace Corps week.