Thursday, March 1, 2012
March 1, 1961, Cold War President John F. Kennedy issues an executive order establishing the Peace Corps—a civilian force of volunteers donating their time and skills overseas to developing countries. The roots of Kennedy’s grand idea to “win the hearts and minds” of people in these countries can be traced to a speech he gave as a senator in 1960 at the University of Michigan where he asked: “How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world? … I think Americans are willing to contribute. But the effort must be far greater than we have ever made in the past.” Kennedy at first establishes a temporary Peace Corps, then after months of debate over the cost and effectiveness of the idea, Congress passes legislation making the Peace Corps permanent.
Today, the Peace Corps has sent 200,000 plus volunteers to 139 host countries to provide various services over its 51-year history. In recent years, the Peace Corps’ work has involved education and HIV/AIDS research, technology development, and environmental preservation. From Feb. 26–March 3, the Peace Corps is celebrating 51 years of service with Peace Corps Week 2012. The celebrations include events, special speakers, and conferences throughout the United States.