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What is the Peace Corps? - History & Criticism

Instructor: Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

Experience the history of the Peace Corps, a 54-year old American government program dedicated to sending men and women abroad to share knowledge and skills with other nations. Learn about its accomplishments as well as its critics' views.

The Establishment of the Peace Corps

On March 1, 1961 during the Administration of President John F. Kennedy, a government program, called the Peace Corps, was established for the purpose of sending American volunteers to remote locations around the globe. The President enthusiastically supported the mandate of this group, which promoted world peace and friendship, improved lives, and shared American experiences abroad. For the past 50 years, the Peace Corps has been involved with the cultivation of understanding and respect between America and other nations. To this day, the group helps to fulfill President Kennedy's dream of international public service, which holds the promise of a better world.

President John F. Kennedy
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Peace Corps Mission

The Peace Corps has a three-part overarching mission statement. The first part is to assist in the need for trained men and women in interested countries. The second is to encourage a better understanding of Americans for the peoples being served. And, the third is to help provide Americans with better understanding of other peoples. Being a kind of foreign aid, the Peace Corps focuses on offering others help in the form of human capital rather than money.

Peace Corps Emblem
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Volunteers are the answer to the call-of-action stipulated in the forward-leaning mission. Basic requirements for applying to the Peace Corps include:

  • Being 18 years or older
  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Having a high school diploma

The selection process can be long and tedious, as volunteers must have definite skill sets, foreign language capabilities, good health, and the ability to serve two years. Led by Director Carolyn Hessler-Radelet, the selected volunteers embark on journeys of international service to 64 possible host countries, including post-tsunami Thailand and post-earthquake Haiti.

Peace Corps Work Ethic

Nearly 220,000 volunteers have worked in the Peace Corps since its establishment. There are seven program sectors sponsored by the Peace Corps: education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, agriculture, and Peace Corps response. Given a minimal stipend while living in a host country, Peace Corps volunteers are able to maintain an adequate standard of living as workers in their chosen program sectors.

Volunteers also have rather flexible work schedules depending on the type of program they are involved with. For example, volunteers working on education projects have hours set by school schedules. In addition, volunteers are able to socialize with the people they are working with and to receive visitors from home at their own expense. Some volunteers choose to do some traveling on mountain or motor bikes during breaks from project duties. Consequently, the work ethic and lifestyle of a typical Peace Corps volunteer are far from primitive in today's society.

Volunteers helping out in Honduras
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Accomplishments of the Peace Corps

Director Hessler-Radelet has put forth much effort to overhaul the Peace Corps application process. Today, the application form is more personalized, shorter, and better able to find qualified individuals. Moreover, applicants are now able to select their host country. As a result of these sweeping changes, in 2013, the Peace Corps had a more than 70% increase. This resulted in a 22-year high for the agency.

Working in conjunction with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and U.S. Department of Education, the Peace Corps has opened a portal on the Internet to attract potential volunteers who are looking for a reduction in student loans. Focusing on a public campaign, the Peace Corps helps volunteers to receive educational benefits.

The main accomplishment expressed by the majority of Peace Corps veterans is the experience of social and emotional betterment. These men and women have learned about different cultures, while living in remote and exotic places. They have given their physical and mental effort to help other people learn and build better lives.

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