So yesterday, Peace Corps turned 50. I celebrated it with a strategic planning session for Peace Corps Mali, and a dinner party hosted by a former volunteer.
It gave me a rare chance to reflect on my service in a greater context. Here’s the things I’m thinking about:
- While we call this ‘service’, it has been a tremendous opportunity for me. Though certain obvious sacrifices are involved (mostly the lack of cheese), I consider it a classic case of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to be here. I have learned so much about the world and my place in it, and those are things I could not possibly do in the comfort of the place I call home.
- Looking around at my fellow volunteers, I’m trying to put fifty years and 200,000 volunteers into perspective. Volunteers learn to speak to people in their own language, which implies that we care about them and respect them. Volunteers work from within communities in ways that most aid organizations and charities can only dream of. To their communities, volunteers represent and embody the energy and promise of America – beliefs in freedom and equality and hard work. Around the world, volunteers reach people in ways that nobody else does.
- America is a big place, and I get how it came to be that many-to-most Americans never leave the country. But the world is getting smaller, and our lives are tied to that of our neighbors in so many more ways than before. We see it in business and communications and economics and environmental issues and in politics. Whether we like it or not, a smaller world will mean a slightly different way of living for everyone. Having bridge-builders like Peace Corps Volunteers will make those transitions easier.
So today I’m sending a shoutout to President Kennedy and the 200,000 people he inspired to answer his call to service of our country and the world. I don’t think Peace Corps has ever been more relevant to the lives of ordinary Americans than it is today.
And on Peace Corps’ 50th birthday, I’m especially proud to be a part of the tradition.