In the spirit of the Peace Corps, which JFK created with his first executive order as president, the editors of Peace Corps at 50 introduce this anniversary story project with the same optimism and certainty that it is a good idea.
The intention of collecting stories is not to trap the Peace Corps experience in a pretty piece of amber. Rather, bringing the world home in many voices responds to an implicit question that President Kennedy might have liked: What can our combined stories offer our country as a guide in a world where people are closer, tensions higher, and the importance of understanding each other greater than ever? Now is a good time to find out.
As you know, the Peace Corps turns 50 in 2011. What you might not have considered is what a remarkable milestone it is. Over the years, Peace Corps as an organization has been bumped around by changes in administrations and attitudes about what exactly volunteers should be doing. But like a simple cork, it never sinks. And at its core, it doesn’t change much. It remains a unique equal opportunity American adventure bursting with hope and action.
From its first day, Peace Corps sliced right through all the —isms: racism, sexism, agism. It is no accident that three of the volunteers in Pakistan 1 (1961) were African American and that the director of that program was a woman. As a point of historical reference, Martin Luther King made his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, and it took until 1964 for the Civil Rights Act to bar discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex.
All over the world, Peace Corps volunteers serve as models for what we Americans are like at our best. We love a challenge. We work hard. We figure things out. We listen. We learn. We help.
These are our stories.