Peace Corps marks 57th anniversary

US President John F Kennedy

by NOW Grenada

  • 1 March is Peace Corps day
  • Peace Corps established by US President John F Kennedy in 1961
  • Over 400 volunteers have served in Grenada since 1967

1 March 2018 marked the 57th anniversary of US President John F Kennedy’s Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps in 1961.

Peace Corps Associate Director for Grenada, Eugene Gittens said that the first Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Grenada arrived in 1967 – 6 years after the birth of the programme. Since then, over 400 volunteers have served in Grenada. Gittens wrote, “Currently we have 15 Peace Corps Volunteers on island attached to primary schools across the country assisting with literacy development. Over the years Peace Corps has served in the areas of teaching, special education, youth development, community development, social development, HIV awareness and prevention and literacy.”

A release from the Peace Corps office follows:

“During his presidential campaign in 1960, President Kennedy (JFK) floated the idea that a new ‘army’ should be created by the United States.  This force would be made up of civilians who would volunteer their time and skills to travel to developing nations to assist them across many sectors.

To fulfill this plan, JFK issued an executive order on 1 March 1961 establishing the Peace Corps as a trial programme. Kennedy sent a message to congress asking for its support and made clear the significance of developing nations to the USA. The people of these nations were desirous of ‘economic and social progress,’ stated the President. “Our own freedom and the future of freedom around the world, depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men [and women] can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, [lack of education], and poverty.”

Many Americans were sceptical but the events of the time, including conflicts in Southeast Asia, Central/Northern/East Africa, Central America and the Middle East, along with the Cold War, inspired congress to make Peace Corps permanent in September of that same year.

JFK first spoke of the Peace Corps on the steps of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at 2 am, the morning after he had engaged in the 3rd presidential debate with Vice President Richard Nixon. Over 10,000 students were waiting for him when he arrived at the university. JFK issued the challenge to them and all Americans to serve their country and the cause of freedom by living and working in the developing world for years at time. The response was immediate. Literally thousands of letters poured into Washington from young Americans hoping to volunteer in the week right after JFK’s executive order.

The very first volunteers went to Ghana and impressed their hosts when they gathered on the airport tarmac upon arrival to sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language. The Eastern Caribbean also hosted one of the first 3 groups of Peace Corps Volunteers, in 1961.

Today over 260,000 Americans of all demographics have answered the call to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers and work to promote world peace and friendship. We salute our current EC PCVs, their counterparts, our EC and Peace Corps Staff around the world, and all PCVs/RPCVs, for we are all part of the life-changing, world-improving Peace Corps effort and experience.”

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