The Peace Corps is one of the prestigious volunteer programs in the United States run by the government. The official mandate of this organization is to make available socio-economic developments to foreign countries using the tool of technical assistance. They also help in promoting the people beings served and Americans. There are many reasons why the Peace Corps stands out among many other volunteer organizations out there. We will take a look at them and some other questions. But, how long is the peace corps? And what is it that has kept it this long?
How long is the peace corps?
The Peace Corps came into existence via executive order 10924 by then-President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It became authorized by congress on the 21st of September 1962 with an act of parliament known as the Peace Corps Act. The volunteers of this organization are often citizens of America with a college degree most times. They are mandated to work abroad for two years after an initial training period of three months. The volunteers of this program often work with schools, governments, non-governmental organizations, and non-profits. They also find application in community health, youth development, business, agriculture, information technology, and the environment.
Upon the completion of the two years of service, volunteers may ask for an extension of the period of service. So far, over 235,000 Americans have participated in the program in 141 countries.
What Is The History Behind The Peace Corps?
It is interesting to note that at the end of the Second World War, some of the members of Congress sought to create volunteer programs in certain countries of the world. By December 1951, then-Rep John F. Kennedy came up with a suggestion that fresh college graduates will have a greater sense of fulfillment giving technical support and assistance to countries in the Middle East. This would become a follow up of the work done by missionaries’ years before. Even though President Kennedy is credited with creating the Peace Corps, the initial initiative came from Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr. He was the one who introduced the first bill that leads to the creation of the Peace Corps back in 1957 which was three years before Kennedy would come and raise it as a campaign speech in Michigan.
The idea, however, started gaining real traction in 1959 when a Congressman from Wisconsin came up with the “Point Four Youth Corps” in 1960. There was a motion for the idea to be studied for feasibility assessment. The study was then endorsed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It became law in 1960 with a grant of $10,000 made available for the study.
President Kennedy is reputed to being the first to come up with the idea for the organization while campaigning on October 14th, 1960. After the elections, the group tasked with the study came up with their report just a few days before Kennedy was inaugurated as president in January 1961. The program was however resisted by critics with his then opponent Richard Nixon predicting that it would become a symbol of the cult of escapism and an opportunity for people to avoid being drafted into the military.
Others had doubts about the ability of recent graduates to deliver because of their perceived limited experience and maturity. The idea gained traction among students and president Kennedy sought the help of academics such as Chester Bowles and Max Millikan to assists him in drawing out a plan for the organization. The president acknowledged the fact that Operation Crossroads Africa was the basis upon which the Peace Corps was developed.
Till 1967, applicants into the Peace Corps were required to pass a certain general aptitude test as well as language aptitude. The first group of volunteers departed for Tanzania and Ghana in 1961. Within two years of being signed, about 7,300 volunteers had found their way into 44 different countries. This saw an increase to 15,000 by June 1966 which is the largest number ever recorded in the history of the organization.
The experience witnessed a bit of a controversy in its first year of operation with a postcard from one of its volunteers named Mary Jane in Nigeria to one of her friends in the U.S describing her condition as one of poverty and primitiveness. This postcard never made it out of Nigeria, Students of the then University of Ibadan College students Union demanded that the volunteers be deported on the premise that they were spies. According to them, the whole project was aimed at imposing neo-colonialism on the people. The international press soon picked this up thus causing several people to raise doubts about the program. The American volunteers soon began a hunger strike while the Nigerian students protested. But soon enough, the Nigerian Students agreed to begin negotiations with the Americans.
The period between 1970-1970 saw President Nixon who was opposed to the program bringing the Peace Corps under ACTION. According to President Jimmy Carter, his mother who served as a volunteer in the program had one of the best seasons of her life while volunteering. By 1979, he made the organization autonomous via executive order. Its autonomous status became secured through legislation in 1981 which made it become an independent federal agency.
Negative Reports Of The Peace Corps
Back in 1976, the Peace Corps recorded the death of Deborah Gardner who was found killed in her house in Tonga. Her murder was later traced to Dennis Priven who was a fellow Peace Corp worker by the government of Tonga. He was however found not guilty after a trial due to insanity and he was sentenced to serve some time in a mental institution in America. But he was never really admitted to any mental institution and the handling of the matter was rather shabby. People saw this as a deliberate attempt by the Peace Corps to shied one of their own because of the effect they felt the case would have on them.
What Has The Peace Corps Being Up To?
Even the founding volunteers were seen as a generalist, the Peace Corps initially requested for technical people from the beginning. An instance of this is the fact that Geologists were among the first set of Volunteers to Ghana. After the September 11 attacks on America, then-President George Bush made a promise to increase the size of the organization as a tool for combating terrorism. The budget was an increase of $325 million which was a $30 million increase in the initial amount.
Also, as a part of the economic stimulus plan of President Barack Obama, the year 2008 saw president Obama proposing to double the Peace Corp size. As of 2010, the amount that was requested was not enough to meet up with the demand by 2011. There was also a decline in the number of applicants for the Peace Corp from 15,384 to 10,118 by 2013. There was an increase in the appropriation requested by the President from $373 million to $400 million.
In 2009, First Response Action was created by Casey Frazee who was assaulted sexually while serving in South Africa. This was an advocacy group aimed at giving Peace Corps volunteers a stronger response especially those who are survivors or victims of sexual violence. A report came out showing the numerous violent crimes Committed against volunteers of the Corp for decades. For instance, a report in 2011 showed that over a thousand American ladies had been sexually assaulted or even raped while serving as volunteers in different countries under the Corps.
What Is The Time Limit Of Service In The Peace Corps?
Employees of the Peace Corps often receive a time-limited appointment. Most of them get a maximum time limit of five years as employees of the corps. This limit was created to ensure that the staff of the Corp remained innovative and fresh. Also, it is a rule that former employees of the Corp can’t be employed. They can only be re-employed after staying the number of years they served with the Corp away. In both rules, volunteer service is not often counted.
Why Should You Join The Peace Corps?
You should know that being a volunteer with the Corp is 24 hours a day and seven days a week job. This simply means that it is time-consuming. But chances are that you will love and value every moment of it and feel the opposite some times. The greatest thing about the Peace Corp experience is that you will have some rather unique stories to tell at the end of it all. You will make great friends while creating awesome memories.
Has the world become a better place with the efforts of members of the Peace Corps over the past few years? This is a question that can be best answered by beneficiaries of the scheme scattered all over the world. One thing is sure and that is the fact that the program has survived several decades and it seems like surviving a few more.