For the next few weeks I will be writing a series of posts about the Peace Corps and what it is. It’s kind of like a crash course – so that’s why I’m calling it Peace Corps 101!
The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, soon after he was inaugurated into office. He encouraged young Americans to answer the call to service and give two years of their lives to volunteering in the international community. The first two Peace Corps countries were Tanzania and Ghana, and the Peace Corps has gone on to have over 220,000 volunteers serving in over 141 countries.
Every year the Peace Corps sends hundreds of volunteers to countries all over the world to assist in one of five different sectors: Youth in Development, Community Economic Development, Health, Agriculture/Forestry/Environment, and Education, which is the sector of my service. With those sectors in mind, volunteers are sent to communities all over their respective countries of service and are assigned to an organization or school in that community in order to serve as best they can and assist the community with various projects and initiatives.
Volunteers make a 27-month commitment to serving in the Peace Corps. The first 2-3 months are spent in a training phase, during which volunteers receive technical, language, and cultural training in order to best serve and to integrate into their communities.
After the training phase, trainees are sworn in to become official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs). They move to their sites and begin the process of integrating into their communities and getting to know the needs and potential projects of those communities. They then get to work with their counterparts , supervisors, and other community members on projects and initiatives.
A major component of the Peace Corps is its commitment to sustainability. It is important to community development that a project be sustainable, meaning that it can run smoothly without any assistance from the volunteer after the initiation phase. So, projects can run and work without any need for a PCV to continue it and full responsibility of the project can be turned over to the community.
Volunteers do more than just assist in the facilitation of projects and funding. The Peace Corps has three goals that go beyond primary projects that each volunteer should strive to meet as stated in the Peace Corps Mission:
To promote world peace and friendship by promoting three goals:
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
In addition to being a volunteer organization, Peace Corps also serves as a cultural exchange to help bring different sides of the world closer together.
In addition to the mission, there are also 10 core expectations for every PCV. We were often told before and during the training phase that if we felt like we were not up to meeting these expectations or didn’t feel that we were able, then we should seriously reconsider serving in the Peace Corps.
The expectations are:
- Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months.
- Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed.
- Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.
- Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work is based on the total trust and confidence you build by living in, and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community and culture.
- Recognize that you are responsible 24 hour a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.
- Engage with host country partners in a spirit of connection, mutual learning, and respect.
- Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local and national laws of the country where you serve.
- Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and well being and that of others.
- Recognize that you will b perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and traditions of the United States of America.
- Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country and community to the people of the United States both during and following your service.
The Peace Corps is not easy. Every single volunteer goes through service like they are riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs and sometimes the highs are extremely high, and vice versa the lows are extremely low. Any PCV would be lying if they said they hadn’t thought about quitting at one point or another. But, it is all extremely worth it to work with people and communities and not just come to provide a service but to learn the culture, the language, and be accepted into the community as a member, not just a visitor.