Address to the Hadassah Convention

Washington, DC | October 28, 1963

We are on the verge of seeing the Peace Corps idea, the idea of voluntary service in the cause of human welfare, become the largest peaceful volunteer movement the world has ever seen. All this is proof that the Peace Corps idea touches upon the profoundest needs of people throughout the world.

When Adolph Ochs bought The New York Times in 1896 he adopted as its motto, "All the news that's fit to print."

Now some of my best friends are Times-men. But with all due respect for that great restitution of American journalism, not even The New York Times has been able to print all the news that's fit to print about Peace Corps Volunteers.

In fact, some of the most interesting facts about the Peace Corps have never been printed.

How many of you know, for example, that 38 percent of all Peace Corps Volunteers are women? There are 418 married couples in the Peace Corps, including 40 couples who met and married after joining (leading one person to suggest that PC meant not only Peace Corps but "Playing Cupid." Eighteen children--including one set of twins--have been born to Peace Corps couples abroad.

Forty-two Peace Corps Volunteers are between 50 and 60 years old. Thirty-three are older than 60. The oldest is 76, and naturally he's from Texas.

Last week 2,465 Americans applied to join the Peace Corps. That's the largest number ever to sign up in one week. For every one of those applicants we will get 12 references--that's about 30,000 individual references for last week's applications. Some of those references provide us with out brightest moments at the Peace Corps. Last week, for example, we received a reference which was trying to be both kind to the applicant and honest with the Peace Corps -- "This young man," the writer said, "is a very personable fellow. Even the police who arrested him like him. "Another letter described an applicant as "about the happiest man this side of a play pen." And we are still trying to figure out what the reference meant which said: "This person is making great strides toward developing from a shy, self-conscious girl into a bold, self-confident young man."

Four-fifths of all Volunteers overseas have college degrees. Ten percent have graduate degrees. Of the first 475 Volunteers to complete two years service and return to the United States, 320 are continuing their education. Over 35 of these are working in a special Ford Foundation program preparing for careers in the developing nations. Sixty-five percent of the applications for the Ford Fellowships came from Volunteers 78 percent of the grants went to Volunteers. More than 40 colleges and universities have set up over 200 special scholarships and fellowships for returning Volunteers. This little-known fact recalls another reference who was asked if he had ever observed an applicant under stress. He answered, “No, because floods, plagues, epidemics and holocaust are relatively rare on college campuses and when they do occur, the deans take care of them." With all these Volunteers coming home to pursue graduate work, the deans are going to have some help.

Despite all you have read and heard about the Peace Corps, I doubt that you have read or heard that Volunteers have carried out the first countrywide school census in Liberia; that a Volunteer in Togo is teaching that country's president and his family English in her spare time; that a single Volunteer in India showed farmers how to save 40 thousand over aged citrus trees through radical pruning; that one Volunteer lab technician in Thailand has identified a species of mosquito which carries malaria but which was previously unknown there (on a number of college campuses they're telling about the Peace Corps Volunteer's girl friend who, upon hearing that he was fighting malaria in Central America, responded with: "My goodness, what have the Malarians done now?"

Other Volunteer accomplishments have also escaped publication in this country. How many Americans know that a few Volunteers in Peru are feeding 60,000 school children a day with the help of food donated by Food-for-Peace? Or that Volunteers have helped to start 17 local newspapers in the hinterland of Liberia-, the first time any newspapers have been printed outside Monrovia, the capital.

In Arequipa, Peru, a newborn baby was named Jose Chester Domingo after Peace Corps Volunteer Chester Wiggins helped deliver him in the jeep taking his mother to the hospital; at 66 Chester Wiggins is the oldest Volunteer in Peru. He may also be the oldest midwife.

And in the Philippines, another Volunteer, Richard Gilbert, helped bring another baby into the world also in a jeep miles short of the hospital; the parents named their new son Jeep Gilbert Ragay. He's probably the first baby in the world to be named after a Willys Jeep and a Peace Corps Volunteer!

These are but a fete of the facts about the Peace Corps that have gone unreported. But one of the biggest unreported Peace Corps stories is not about the United States Peace Corps at all. It is about the spread of the Peace Corps movement--the Peace Corps idea--across the free world. It is the opening of a brand new frontier--the frontier of voluntary service.

It all began with a meeting, a convention much like this one.

In the Peace Corps we were impressed with the contribution which skilled Volunteers could make to the progress of countries emerging from centuries of poverty. We had found that foreign aid and local investment could not do the job without the skilled men and women needed to put that money to work--to teach in schools, to improve agriculture, to man the factories and the institutions of government. We had seen that without man, money alone was helpless to improve human welfare.

Of course, this is not news to this organization. For the wealth of human resources--skills, talents and intelligence--has been the major secret, the hidden weapon, of the amazing progress of the State of Israel.

Just a year ago this month, the Peace Corps sponsored a conference of 43 nations in Puerto Rico. The major purpose of the Conference was to examine ways in which skilled volunteers could be used more widely and more effectively to help solve the most urgent human needs of the developing countries. To this Conference came three Vice-Presidents--including our own--Ministers and cabinet officers from all over the world--in tribute to the importance of the subject.

From this Conference came not merely speeches and resolutions, debates and discussions, but positive, constructive action. The Conference established the International Peace Corps Secretariat--a Secretariat whose purpose, unanimously agreed upon, was to encourage and assist the spread of the volunteer movement, the Peace Corps idea, throughout the world.

"No army", said Victor Hugo “can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” The work of the International Peace Corps Secretariat over the past year is proof that, for the Peace Corps idea, the time had come.

First, let me make clear what that work is not. It is not the purpose of this Secretariat to "internationalize" the United States Peace Corps, to form some gigantic supra-national organization responsible for volunteers from different countries. It's only function is to help and encourage national Peace Corps like our own; Peace Corps run on a national basis, responsible to their own governments and people.

Its success is one of the big, little know, stories of the year. For, in the last year, almost every industrialized country in the free world has established its own version of the Peace Corps. And, I predict, that by the end of next year, every such country will have a Peace Corps of its own.

The Netherlands Volunteer Corps is already in training. Dutch volunteers are training for work in the Cameroons, with another group scheduled for Northeast Brazil. Danish volunteers have begun work in Tanganyika. The German Peace Corps, the German Development Service, was inaugurated a few months ago in a ceremony with President Lubke, Chancellor Adenauer and President Kennedy. The French Volunteers for Progress will be on their way to Africa before the end of the year. A new volunteer program for Great Britain -- involving 500 college graduates - has already begun. In Argentina, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Canada and Australia plans are being made to recruit, to train and to send overseas additional men and women, dedicated to volunteer work in the service of progress and peace.

This year over 1,000 volunteers from other countries will be in the field. Next year we estimate the number will rise to more than 2,500. And the future knows no limit. In fact, the contributions of other countries should ultimately equal the scale of our own effort.

And this is being done without costing the United States taxpayer a single cent. Every one of these Peace Corps will be financed, from start to finish, by the country which runs it. Three and a half million dollars has already been appropriated by foreign parliaments for this purpose. Next year more than ten million dollars will be earmarked for Peace Corps activities.

All the United States has spent, over more than a year, is a contribution of less than $200,000 to help finance the Secretariat which has been instrumental in securing this multi-million dollar effort by our free world allies. And even this expense we have not borne alone. For despite the fact that the United States offered to pay the entire cost of the first year of Secretariat operations, other countries have, voluntarily, and without our asking, come forward with contributions of almost $50,000 in services and cash. Nations of five countries now work for the Secretariat, paid for by their own governments. Nothing could speak more eloquently about the importance they attach to this activity.

And I know you will be interested to hear that Israel has supplied a full time staff member to the Secretariat, and was the first country to make a cash contribution.

And next year, if the Secretariat continues, other nations have already committed themselves to help support the work of the Secretariat through cash contributions. The Netherlands, for example, has offered to supply, equip and staff a European office for the organization, so that Europe can keep a in closer touch with the activities of volunteers throughout the world.

We are on the verge of seeing the Peace Corps idea -- the idea of voluntary service in the cause of human welfare -- become the largest peaceful volunteer movement the world has ever seen.

This movement will take many forms as it is adapted to the genius and needs of different countries. But, unlike many volunteer movements of the past, it will have the great, single theme of service to human welfare and understanding--of service, in short, to lasting and fruitful peace.

We are glad to have been associated with the Secretariat which has helped to make this possible. We are proud that our own idea has found so many imitators, for such imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But the major credit must go not to the Secretariat or to our own Peace Corps, but to the vitality and appeal of the Peace Corps concept, the volunteer idea, itself.

We can see part of this appeal in the fact that there are no Peace Corps behind the iron curtain, no stream of volunteers coming from communist countries. And the reason is plain. The volunteer goes to another country as a free man. He is free to talk, as he wishes associate with whom he wishes, believe what he wishes. He can travel freely throughout the country. There is no policeman hovering at his shoulder. He works for the officials of the country to which be goes; not subject to a totalitarian discipline and supervision. He is forbidden to propagandize or proselytize for a faith or a political system or a particular economic structure. He goes to help others develop as they wish to develop; not in accordance with a super plan dictated in the Kremlin or in Peking. This is "why no communist country can send its people as volunteers to work in strange lands. This is why there is no Soviet Peace Corps. This is why--although there may someday be an anti-missile missile, there will not be an anti-Peace Corps Peace Corps.

Thus, the strength of our idea springs from the fact that it is an association of free men.

But it is more than this. Nothing has been more inspiring to me than to see the people of other countries reacting to the chance to serve just as our own have reacted. This year alone more than 40,000 Americans are volunteering to join the Peace Corps. The number has gone up every year of our operation. And now the European countries, with much smaller populations have begun to see the same pattern. Germany has 1500 applications, although they have not yet begun to recruit. The Netherlands has 370 applications for 50 spots; Denmark five times as many volunteers as positions.

This is proof, if proof were needed, that the Peace Corps idea does not come from qualities which are exclusively American. "Rather it touches upon the profoundest motives of people throughout the world. It tells them that idealism, high aspirations, firm convictions, are not inconsistent with the most practical, efficient, concrete and effective programs. It says, in short, that there is no barrier between the world's work and the world's hopes.

And it is even more than this. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "In order that I respect a man I require that in some way he have participated in the passions of his times." Through the Peace Corps idea, people have that chance--the chance to participate in the passions of their times. For none of the forces of today's world is more important than the--world-wide passion for national independence, human welfare and social justice. In the Peace Corps, men and women, working with their own hands and minds, help shape the course of these great causes.

These are the well-springs of the Peace Corps idea; and they help explain its spread across the free world.

Nowhere is this more dramatically illustrated than in the developing countries themselves. For we though, when we established the Secretariat, that it should also work to help establish volunteer groups within the developing countries--groups of men and women who would work side by side with workers coming to them from other lands.

This idea too has been moving ahead. The El Salvador Social Progress Corps is already in operation. Sixty Salvadoran volunteers are working alongside forty Americans in the villages and communities of El Salvador. The basic idea of these groups is to mobilize men and women to go out as volunteers to work in the schools and hospitals, farms and slums of their own countries. In some cases they will work with volunteers form America or from other countries. In other cases they will work on their own. The scale and skills, the nature and organization will differ from country to country. But the basic idea of volunteer service will remain the same.

Additional programs have been prepared for the Dominican Republic and Honduras only to be postponed by political development in those countries. In Africa a Secretariat member is working with the government of Northern Rhodesia, another is in Tanganyika, all helping to prepare domestic volunteer corps.

Thus the volunteer idea not only transcends national boundaries. It cuts across boundaries of wealth and poverty, race and religion, history and politics. It calls upon free men to give of themselves-their hearts, their hands, their minds—in the service of our common humanity.

Recently the Peace Corps was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award by the Philippine government. This is referred to as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel prize. It was the first time the award had been given to a non-Asian group. The citation that accompanied that award sums up, I believe, the essential spirit and hopes of Peace Corps Volunteers from every land. It reads:

The problem of achieving peace amidst the tensions and dangers of a nuclear age occupies the mind of much of the human race, yet few within it discover a useful way to contribute. In reaffirming the essential community of interest of all ordinary people, regardless of creed or nationality, the Peace Corps Volunteers belong to that small but growing fraternity who by their individual efforts do make a difference.

This power of individual commitment is the extraordinary news about the Peace Corps that has gone untold. Not only is the fact that individuals make a difference the key to the spread of the Peace Corps idea; it is the only reason for the Peace Corps success.

For as every Volunteer knows, the work of helping nations to develop calls more for grinding determination than it does for glamorous dramatics, and the ability to win out over dysentery and boredom is far more significant than the vine-swinging agility of a Johnny Teismuller. The difficulties, "one Volunteer wrote, "were depressingly ordinary."

They are also depressingly discouraging. "The first sick child you want to pick up and fix up and love;" wrote a Volunteer from the Philippines. "The tenth you want to run from; the 100th, you wish you were blind and couldn't see.” Norman Cousins tells of meeting a young American who decided to quit India after only five months of service with a U.S. agricultural mission. "It's no use," he said, "you help one man only to discover 50 men standing behind him. Then you help 50 men and 5,000 suddenly appear. You help the 5,000; but what do you do about the 5,000,000 behind them, and the 50,000,000 to follow? At some point along the line, you decide it is hopeless."

It is a unique tribute to Peace Corps Volunteers that most of them are not finding it hopeless--depressingly ordinary," yes; frustrating, yes; painstakingly slow, yes; but not hopeless. Witness Janet Hanneman, a Peace Corps nurse in Pakistan. She was sent to work in a hospital for the mentally ill in Lahore. Her mode of transportation is a bicycle; three times she has had accidents. After the last accident she carried her arm in a splint for six weeks. When it was healed she suffered a brain concussion while riding in a motorcycle rickshaw that careened into a ditch; she went on to work and did not discover the concussion until later in the day. That put her to bed for a few days. She recovered. Then three attacks of amoebic hepatitis put her in the hospital as a patient for periods of 8 days, 19 days, and 25 days. But "Give Up" is not in Janet Hanneman's vocabulary, and she is back at work in Lahore today, the only psychiatric nurse in all of Pakistan. Not only has she returned to work--she has extended her tour of duty for another year.

There are thousands of Volunteers like Janet Hanneman serving in the Peace Corps tonight. They have surprised the world with their patience, compassion, determination, integrity, and dedication. When I hear about them, I realize how right Albert Camus was to ask us to "look not for the door and the way out anywhere but in the wall against which we a living. Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps, then, if we live attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings—the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others, in a man. I believe, rather, that is is awakened, and revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. Each and every man, on the foundations of his own sufferings and joys builds for all."

This is the truth to which Peace Corps Volunteers at work on the frontiers of the world are witnessing.