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Fifty Years Of Peace Corps

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Fifty Years Of Peace Corps

Remembrances

Fifty Years Of Peace Corps

Fifty Years Of Peace Corps

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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.

"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, 72, of New Orleans was a volunteer in 1961 in Tanganyika -- now known as Tanzania. Courtesy of Gene Schreiber hide caption

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Courtesy of Gene Schreiber

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.

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Peace Corps volunteer Alison Stow works with students in Ghana in 2007. Sarah Buss hide caption

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Sarah Buss

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."