Legacy of a Generation: The Peace Corps at Fifty
Where were you in 1961? It was such a long time ago and many of you weren’t even born yet. But I was. And so were many others of us who answered the call to service with the US Peace Corps. Now, we are some of us grandparents, wanting to leave our own legacies to children and grandchildren. This life has given us reason to be proud. When our American president back then, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, spoke at his inauguration to the world, he asked us to look at who we were as Americans and to look at others as partners and not as adversaries. He asked what we could do for our country and the answer was to go forth, confidently and generously, and do God’s work here on earth, with good conscience our only sure reward.
The late President Kennedy never really got to see what impact his words that day had on us all. He never got the opportunity to welcome most of the over 200,000 who’ve volunteered in over 77 countries worldwide. Most of our citizens who’ve gone to far away places and worked in fields, in schools, with fledgling community organizations, with health clinics and with youth groups all across the globe, never had the chance to say “thank you” to him in person for opening the floodgates to what was in that time a narrow view of our respective planet just barely on the edge of a great technological explosion.
Now, with all that’s happened over the past fifty years, the original methods and ways of Peace Corps tasks have changed a bit. Mass communication has made it possible for volunteers to learn, grow, share, meet, discuss, and otherwise perform more readily, in a more informed fashion, and with more tools to help their various projects survive as well as to assist them in being able to remain more connected to the people who in their life back “home” were left behind. The experience changed them and it changed me and all of us are grateful to be able to weather and welcome those changes with those we love through emails, Facebook, instant messaging, Skype, and other innovations which are today commonplace.
JFK never saw that one coming. But he did see that we needed to reach out as a society and to confirm what those of us who have had the privilege of volunteering in another country far from their own know: that if we don’t open up our hearts and utilize our talents in a way that is unselfish and separate ourselves from the familiar in order to absorb different points of view and to see the things that usually remain hidden, we will never really be all that we can be.
For some of us, this has been an adventure of sorts. A daily, weekly, monthly and yet second by second, interesting, surprising, unnerving at times, challenging course of direction which has benefited so many others both in our countries of service and in our own United States. To be able to look back upon all that happens in two years is a mind-boggling thing. So many of us will have the rest of our lives to try and recall and relate all that we were privileged to accomplish and to join in---the lives that beforehand were born on a similar soil, not yet graced by the company of strangers, and not yet initiated into the great big universe of another’s culture, customs, and ideas.
On March 1st of 2011, we acknowledge our place in history as innovators, and ambassadors, along with all those wonderfully rich memories and the good works that came from our much-looked- forward- to sacrifice in this our Kennedy-generation Peace Corps and look ahead to the next fifty years where from the land that we love, ourselves and others like us, were able to keep the promises that we made to be a part of a new generation of Americans. Fifty years from now, the generations that come after us, here, there, and everywhere that Peace Corps goes, will be glad that we did.