Address to Puerto Rican Leaders

New York City | November 28, 1962

I am happy that the commonwealth has progressed to the point that it is able to lend some of its good minds to help other nations.

I have come here tonight because the Peace Corps needs your help, because your country needs your help, and because the world needs it.

In the first 21 months of its life, the Peace Corps has sent nearly 4,500 Americans overseas to help the peoples of nations less fortunate than ours. They are working in 40 nations.

We are at present training Volunteers to work in two other nations. Still others want the help of Peace Corps Volunteers, and every nation to which we have sent Volunteers has asked for more.

So, next year, we will send another 5,000 Volunteers abroad to work as teachers, farm specialists, social workers, public health nurses and in such technical fields as mechanics, carpentry, surveying and construction.

Ours has been a successful program. When it began, there were some who feared it would be nothing more than a bunch of bearded college kids going abroad in button-down shirts and Bermuda shorts to save the world.

Many of our Volunteers are indeed college graduates, and a few of them have grown beards. Many did take their button down shirts and Bermuda shorts with them. And a good many do believe they are contributing at least something to the betterment of the world.

But at heart ours is a program which has sent abroad Americans ranging in age from 18 to 75, ranging from high school graduates to Ph. D’s, who have been trained to do a job that needs doing, and who are doing their jobs in the finest American tradition.

They are using initiative and resourcefulness. They are showing that they are determined to succeed in spite of the difficulties of communicating in another language and working in a strange culture; in spite of occasional communist activity; and in spite of the lack of many comforts they would take for granted at home.

The Peace Corps program has not been successful because it has a good staff in Washington, because it has enjoyed the support of Congress or because it has been given a place of importance in the work of this Administration. It has been successful because the Volunteer has made it successful--because there are in our country men and women with good minds and useful skills who are willing to spend two years of their lives helping someone else. In doing so, they believe that improving the status of mankind is a vital way of serving the cause of peace.

The Peace Corps needs more of these men and women with good minds and useful skills -- and I am asking your help tonight in finding them.

Already we have trained and sent overseas 23 Volunteers from Puerto Rico and several Puerto Ricans more from New York. We have sent abroad more Puerto Ricans than we have from 16 of our states.

Juan Rosario, from Diaz, Puerto Rico, is doing agricultural extension work among the farm families of Brazil, along with Modesto Ortiz-Rosario from Orocovis arid Rosario Martinez-Bruno, from Vega Baja.

Roberto Ramirez-Rios, from Utuado, is doing community development work in Colombia.

Also in Brazil are Minerva Dia-Ruiz and Ester Diaz-Figueroa, from Trujillo Alto, both home economists.

There are other Puerto Ricans who have helped make the Peace Corps program a success. But we need still more of them.

We need their vocational skills; we need their familiarity with the Spanish language.

One of the difficulties of our program has been to train Volunteers sufficiently in a short period of time to enable them to use the language of the country in which they are to serve. It is, of course, useless for us to send to Tunisia or Thailand or Peru a Volunteer who can’t speak the language of the people with whom he will mix and mingle and we require the Volunteers to live with the people as well as to work with them.

The need for Volunteers who have a knowledge of Spanish has increased in recent months because our Latin American projects are growing in both size and number.

They are not growing exclusively in South America, of course. The requests for Volunteers continue to come in from Africa, the Far East and the Near East. But the demand from Latin America has been growing ever since our first Volunteers want down there and showed themselves to be sincere workers, ready to live without frills in the rural areas of Brazil or the slums of Valparaiso.

The people of Peru call our Volunteers "the poor gringoes" because, unlike any Americans they have ever known, the Volunteers live in the slums--where they do their daily work.

Not long ago one of our Volunteers in the Dominican Republic came upon a mob in the village where he had been working. They were plastering up anti-American slogans and chanting, "Yankee, go home."

The Volunteer approached the ring-leader and said, "I guess I better leave if you feel that way."

But the people quickly turned to him and said, "No, no--we want Yankees to go home; you Americanos, you stay."

This is the kind of incident which makes us confident we are succeeding.

I do not want to give the impression that we want Puerto Rican Volunteers only for service in South and Central America. This is not the case at all. We need good minds and useful skills to send to underdeveloped nations throughout the world. We need them for all types of projects, everywhere.

Our requirements are not at all impossible to meet. A Volunteer must be at least 18 years of age, but there is no upper age limit, and we have now overseas three persons in their seventies.

We have sent abroad a great many college-trained people, but our basic educational requirement is that the Volunteer have a high school education. Some of our Volunteers have not gone beyond high school, although many no doubt will continue their formal education when they

We investigate the background of every applicant to satisfy ourselves that his character is good. We also test his knowledge, but we do not have an established passing score. With 200 different types of jobs to fill, we couldn't establish a very realistic minimum.

Finally, we require every Volunteer to have a useful skill. It may be plumbing, bricklaying, drafting or -- as is the case with many Volunteers we have sent to rural South America and elsewhere -- it may be the ability to work with people.

We have sent overseas many persons with high technical training architects and heavy machinery mechanics to Tunisia, nurses to Malaya, geologists to Tanganyika, farm specialists to Colombia, youth workers to Brazil, nutritionists and sanitation specialists to Peru, librarians to Jamaica, physical education instructors to Thailand, home economists to Chile. We have sent overseas many teachers--500 to the Philippines alone. We will need more persons with those skills.

But our experience has been that persons who do not have highly specialized training--who have, say, a liberal arts education--make excellent Volunteers.

The quality they bring to the Peace Corps is the capacity to lead, to work alongside someone else in a foreign land and, finally, the zeal to succeed in a given task.

Succeeding, I should stress, is not always easy. Living and working abroad is at times frustrating and at times discouraging.

A Volunteer in the Philippines wrote home not long ago that she never thought the day would come when the sight of a flush toilet would bring tears of joy to her face.

We protect our Volunteers from disease as best we can. But we have no shots to protect them from dysentery.

In Colombia it may require six hours for a Volunteer to travel three miles as the crow flies, for he may have to go up and down steep mountains and cross rivers which have no bridges.

Nearly every Volunteer finds that his work, like woman’s is never really done. In the Philippians we have a teacher who, in addition to teaching, was asked to organize a science fair--and then a baseball team.

In Liberia, our Volunteers who are teaching they have tripled that country’s supply of college-trained teachers--must either grade their papers in the afternoon or do it at night by light from a gasoline lamp. Our teachers in Africa are working without books. We need a million textbooks to help them do their jobs.

A nurse in Malaya wrote home that the hospital in which she works has only three syringes and three medicine glasses.

But in spite of situations like these, our Volunteers are succeeding because they are determined American men and women.

One of the goals of the Peace Corps when it was established in March of 1961 was to acquaint Americans with other countries. We believed, of course, that useful work could be done abroad. But we also believed it would be of value to our country to have a reservoir of men and women who know from experience the language, the culture and the viewpoint of other countries.

This reservoir of talent already is in demand here at home. A number of American firms, including some of the largest, already have expressed interest in hiring returning Volunteers, even though it will be next summer before the first ones come back.

Besides learning about another country, our Volunteers are learning to make decisions, to lead others, to be their own bosses. The nature of volunteer service makes this necessary. The young woman who goes to a remote village abroad must live largely on her own. The decisions she makes are her decisions. The leadership she gives comes from within her, not from a superior watching over her shoulder to see how she does his job.

Already one American businessman who has seen Volunteers at work abroad has come home with the estimate that the two years the Volunteer spends overseas will be equal to the first 10 years in business or in a career in teaching him to act decisively.

This is going to place our Volunteers in even greater demand when they come home.

I am confident that service abroad will be meaningful for Puerto Ricans, just as it is for all other Americans. The returning Volunteer be he Puerto Rican, Irish, Jewish, Negro, Oriental or Italian--and we have some of all overseas--is going to find his future interesting indeed.

The Peace Corps involvement with Puerto Rico already is considerable. We have two training camps on the island, where our Volunteers go before they leave for their assignments. The University of Puerto Rico and Catholic University have helped to train Volunteers. Many Volunteers work with agencies of the commonwealth government, learning their lessons on-the-job. The Peace Corps has profited greatly from its relationship with Puerto Rico.

I am happy that the commonwealth has progressed to the point that it is able to lend some of its good minds to help other nations.

On December 8 we will seek more of your good minds. At an open house to be held in this building, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., we hope to talk to prospective Volunteers. We’ll have movies to show of Peace Corps work. We’ll have literature to give out. Some of our staff people from Washington will be here to answer questions.

This open house, of course, will not be limited to Puerto Ricans. We will welcome anyone of Hispanic origin, or of any other origin.

But we hope it is going to provide us with a reservoir of persons with the skills of the Puerto Ricans we already have sent abroad.

The Peace Corps needs your help in getting out the word about this open house. If you know someone who would make a good Volunteer, please encourage them to come.

Tell them there is opportunity for service in the Peace Corps. Tell them there is opportunity to do meaningful work. Tell them there is opportunity to help one’s country and one’s self.

But tell them Peace Corps service is more than that. Tell them it is a means by which one person may help another person, or a great many persons, and thereby serve the cause of peace.

Our volunteers in Sarawak, in Tunisia, in Senegal, in Bolivia, in Venezuela, and in every other country where they are working already, have found this out. Many have found out the hard way, which sometimes is the only way.

They have found it out as they work side by side with people who have known hunger, and attempt to help them grow more food; side by side with people who have known disease, and help them conquer it; side by side with people who have known abject poverty, and help them surmount it; side by side with people who want to develop, and help them build; side by side with people who feel in their breast the heartbeat of freedom, and help create a climate where it will survive.

This is a high calling, this business of helping mankind. It is a challenge to the greatness and goodness of our country.

Tell those who would heed this challenge that there are few better ways to heed it than through service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.