Jack Kennedy got it wrong. He said at his inaugural: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Many feel that in the case of the U.S. Peace Corps the volunteers were the persons who benefited far more than those they sought to help. More than 200,000 volunteers served in 139 countries, the Peace Corp is quick to note.
Kennedy’s idea has evolved into a $400 million a year federal program, but the benefit to the United States has been to enhance the international outlook of its citizens.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the executive order that Kennedy issued to create the Peace Corps in the early days of his administration. He did not come up with the idea, but he promoted the concept in his presidential campaign.
U.S. Embassy officials will be marking the day with a special ceremony tonight. Attending will be Anne S. Andrew, the U.S. ambassador; Steve Dorsey, director of the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and, Marta Blanco, who is director of the Costa Rica Multilingüe program.
The Peace Corps has survived to become an independent government agency despite early harsh criticism, personnel problems, assorted crimes, claims it was a haven for draft dodgers, the expected opposition from some other nations and terrorists threats. Still, even critic Richard Nixon helped the Peace Corps grow and conservative Ronald Reagan embraced it.
The Peace Corps itself maintains a list of notables who have been volunteers. U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd was a volunteer in Africa. Josh Friedman served in San Vito from 1964 to 1966. He won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on hunger in Africa in 1985 while at Newsday on Long Island, New York. He now is director of international programs, Columbia School of Journalism.
A.M. Costa Rica columnist Jo Stuart has writtenabout her friends Bonnie and Arnold Hano, who were Peace Corps volunteers in Costa Rica in the early 90s even though they were in their 60s and more or less retired.
Many former volunteers never really left. Their heart remained in their host country, and they returned quickly, going into business, opening restaurants and becoming involved in international development, family and even religion.
Those who did return to Stateside life generally talk of how their volunteer experiences changed them. Returning volunteers also had a chance to earn academic degrees with Peace Corps programs, and many did.
In Costa Rica now volunteers are mainly working with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia helping children at risk, in rural community development and with micro enterprise development.
Current volunteers post comments and essays on an Internet site called Peace Corps Journals.Several of the postings from Costa Rica were done Monday, so the information is current and provides a glimpse into the lives of volunteers, their problems, their successes, their illnesses and even their romances.