Fifty Years Of Peace Corps

Fifty years ago, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy called on young Americans to offer their talents and energy to the world in what would eventually be called the Peace Corps.

  • Sen. John F. Kennedy proposes the Peace Corps during a presidential campaign speech on the steps of the Michigan Union at the University of Michigan, 1960
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    Sen. John F. Kennedy proposes the Peace Corps during a presidential campaign speech on the steps of the Michigan Union at the University of Michigan, 1960
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Gene Schreiber shows local municipalities how to survey for road construction, 1962
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    Gene Schreiber shows local municipalities how to survey for road construction, 1962
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Working with a women's group to create crafts as a source of secondary income in Panama, 1969
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    Working with a women's group to create crafts as a source of secondary income in Panama, 1969
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Helping a local fisherman with his nets, Panama, 1969
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    Helping a local fisherman with his nets, Panama, 1969
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Training teachers and working with students in Jamaica, 1972
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    Training teachers and working with students in Jamaica, 1972
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Teaching science to secondary school students, Nepal, 1973
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    Teaching science to secondary school students, Nepal, 1973
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Making crafts with children, Belize, 1988
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    Making crafts with children, Belize, 1988
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Working in Mali to construct water pumps for rural villages, 1989
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    Working in Mali to construct water pumps for rural villages, 1989
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Planting trees with a local school in Ghana, 2000
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    Planting trees with a local school in Ghana, 2000
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Teaching math in the Philippines, 2006
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    Teaching math in the Philippines, 2006
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library
  • Teaching basic business techniques and marketing skills to local artisans in Senegal, such as a women's basket-making co-op, 2009
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    Teaching basic business techniques and marketing skills to local artisans in Senegal, such as a women's basket-making co-op, 2009
    Courtesy of the Peace Corps Digital Library

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"How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers — how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?" Kennedy asked on Oct. 14, 1960.

Gene Schreiber was a Peace Corps volunteer in 1961 i i

hide captionGene Schreiber, 72, of New Orleans was a volunteer in 1961 in Tanganyika — now known as Tanzania.

Courtesy of Gene Schreiber
Gene Schreiber was a Peace Corps volunteer in 1961

Gene Schreiber, 72, of New Orleans was a volunteer in 1961 in Tanganyika — now known as Tanzania.

Courtesy of Gene Schreiber

"On your willingness to do that, not merely to serve one year or two years in the service, but on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can. And I think that Americans are willing to contribute," he added.

In 50 years, more than 200,000 volunteers have answered that call. The Peace Corps, created after Kennedy took office in 1961, is tasked with promoting world peace and friendship. American volunteers to the Peace Corps have served in 139 countries. Ghana and Tanzania were the first countries to welcome them.

Alison Stow i i

hide captionPeace Corps volunteer Alison Stow works with students in Ghana in 2007.

Sarah Buss
Alison Stow

Peace Corps volunteer Alison Stow works with students in Ghana in 2007.

Sarah Buss

Gene Schreiber, 72, of New Orleans was a volunteer in 1961 in Tanganyika — now known as Tanzania. He tells Morning Edition host Linda Wertheimer that the experience changed his life.

"It was a pioneer type of spirit," recalls Schreiber, who went on to serve in the Foreign Service. He says he had no idea the Peace Corps would still be going strong 50 years later. "You go and do something new, you don't really expect it to last," Schreiber says.

Alison Stow, 28, just returned from volunteering in West Africa, where she taught art to deaf students. She cites the "severe cultural isolation
of being a Peace Corps volunteer. Both Stow and Schreiber say it is an experience they would recommend for young people who are considering joining.

"Go for it," Stow says she would tell young people. "It's going to change your life."

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