Apr 05

The Need for Peace Corps Today

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 04/05/2021 4:33PM | Quote of the Week | Peace Corps

QuoteOfTheWeek04122021



Our Quote of the Week is inspired by the initiatives that Peace Corps is currently undertaking in service of our current challenges.
 
When Sargent Shriver spoke these words during his Remarks at the Peace Corps 35th Anniversary, the world was a  different place than it was when he became first Director of the Peace Corps in 1961. The year of the speech was 1996. The number of Volunteers had been reduced significantly over the decades, and The Soviet Union, which was seen as a major Communist threat when the Peace Corps was conceived, had been dissolved five years earlier. And yet, as Sargent Shriver states, the need for the Peace Corps "is much, much larger today". Shriver also looked ahead to our era, saying, "The 21st century needs ideas and hopes for humanity just as startling and new and presumptuous as our 18th century Declaration of Independence and our 18th century Constitution".

Shriver had a point. From the beginning, he and his Presidential boss, John Kennedy, believed deeply that the Peace Corps could be cornerstone of peacebuilding, and that it needed to play a central a role in US foreign policy and diplomacy. The notion that committed Volunteers could serve communities who requested assistance in their local development opened up opportunities for "world peace and friendship" throughout the developing world.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led the Peace Corps to recall all active Volunteers to the US. But this decision has not stopped Volunteers from serving, nor from the Peace Corps' repositioning itself to deal with our current crises. In 2021, Peace Corps Response Volunteers will be deployed to work with FEMA, working domestically at COVID-19 vaccination centers across the US. This follows other efforts of Volunteers in the past year, who have worked as contact tracers, food distributors, mask manufacturers, as part of the National Peace Corps Association's Emergency Response Network in Washington State, and more.

The Peace Corps is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. In the years leading up to this anniversary, those planning for this milestone could not have possibly imagined the reality in which we're living under COVID-19. And COVID is only one several crises that we could be facing in coming years. With new challenges coming about from the effects of pandemics, climate change, and more, Peace Corps Volunteers could play an even bigger role in serving vulnerable communities everywhere -- if our leaders dare to evolve, innovate, and implement bold solutions  like the one that President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver did with the Peace Corps.

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