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The Peace Corps is an independent U.S. federal agency designed to promote mutual understanding between Americans and the outside world. Established by executive order in 1961 and approved by Congress as a permanent agency within the State Department later that year, the program was an outgrowth of the Cold War designed to oppose the Chinese and Soviet political-ideological challenge to Western influence in the widely open Third World arena of superpower competition. More than 168,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps since its inception. Gaddi H. Vasquez is the current director.
Purpose & function
The program officially has three goals:
- To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers;
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The Peace Corps works by first announcing its availability to foreign governments. These governments then determine areas in which the organization can be involved. The organization then matches the requested assignments to its pool of applicants and sends those volunteers with the appropriate skills to the countries who first made the requests.
Background & history
Since the end of the Second World War, various members of the United States Congress had proposed bills to establish volunteer organizations in the Third World. Privately funded non-religious organizations had been sending volunteers overseas since the 1950s.
John F. Kennedy first announced his own idea for such an organization during 1960 presidential campaign at a late-night speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14. During a later speech in San Francisco, California on November 1, he dubbed this proposed organization the "Peace Corps". Critics of the program (including Kennedy's opponent, Richard M. Nixon) claimed the program would be nothing but a haven for draft dodgers. Others doubted whether college-aged volunteers had the necessary skills. The idea was popular among college students, however, and Kennedy continued to pursue it, asking respected academics such as Max Millikan and Chester Bowles to help him outline the organization and its goals. During his inaugural address, Kennedy again promised to create the program.
Established & authorized
On March 1, 1961, Kennedy signed an Executive Order which officially started the Peace Corps. Concerned with the growing tide of revolutionary sentiment in the Third World, Kennedy saw the Peace Corps as a means of countering the notions of the "Ugly American" and "Yankee imperialism," especially in the emerging nations of postcolonial Africa and Asia. 1 2
On March 4, Kennedy appointed Sargent Shriver to be the program's first director. Shriver was tasked with fleshing out the organization, which he did with the help of Warren W. Wiggins and others. Shriver and his think tank outlined the three major goals of the Peace Corps and decided the number of volunteers they needed to recruit. The program began recruiting volunteers that following July.
Until about 1967, applicants to the Peace Corps had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for various Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude. After an address from Kennedy, who was introduced by Rev. Russell Fuller of Memorial Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized on September 22, 1961, by Congress, and within two years, over 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number would jump to 15,000 in June of 1966, the largest number in the organization's history.
Despite its success over the past four decades, the organization was tinged with scandal in its first year. On October 13, 1961, volunteer Marjorie Michelmore in Nigeria wrote a postcard to her boyfriend in the U.S. in which she described the "squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions" of Nigeria. Somehow, the postcard never made it into the mail. A Nigerian student at the University College at Ibadan found it and made copies to distribute around campus. Nigerian students accused the volunteers of being spies of the U.S. government or agents of imperialists. The story was picked up by the international press, and some people began to question the future of the program as a whole. After several days of isolation imposed on volunteers by angry Nigerian students, the American personnel went on a hunger strike. Organizations such as the Nigerian-American Society and the Organization of Nigerians Trained in America also came to the Peace Corps' defense. Finally, the Nigerian students agreed to open a dialogue with the Americans.
In July 1971, President Nixon brought the Peace Corps under the umbrella agency, ACTION . Peace Corps would remain under ACTION until President Jimmy Carter declared it fully autonomous in a 1979 executive order. This independent status would be further secured when Congress passed legislation in 1981 to make the organization an independent federal agency.
Peace Corps started to branch out from its traditional concerns with education- and agriculture-related projects. In 1982, President Reagan appointee Director Loret Miller Ruppe initiated several new business-related programs. For the first time, a number of conservative and even Republican volunteers joined the largely progressive contingent of overseas volunteers, and the organization continued to reflect the evolving political and social conditions in the United States.
However, funding cuts during the 1980s dropped the number of volunteers to 5,380, its lowest level since the organization's early years. Funding increased again in 1985, and Congress passed an initiative to raise the number of volunteers to 10,000 by 1992.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks alerted the nation to growing anti-US sentiment in the Middle East, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the organization within five years as a part of his "War on Terrorism." Congress passed a budget increase at $325 million, $30 million above FY03 but $30 million below the President's request for the 2004 fiscal year.
- 1961 - 10924 - Establishment and administration of the Peace Corps in the Department of State (Kennedy)
- 1962 - 11041 - Continuance and administration of the Peace Corps in the Department of State (Kennedy)
- 1971 - 11603 - Assigning additional functions to the Director of ACTION (Nixon)
- 1979 - 12137 - The Peace Corps (Carter)
|Director||service dates||appointed by||notes|
|1||R. Sargent Shriver||1961–1966||Kennedy||Three days after President Kennedy signed an Executive Order establishing the Peace Corps, Shriver became its first director. Deployment was rapid: Volunteers arrived in five countries during 1961. In just under six years, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 Volunteers.|
|2||Jack Vaughn||1966–1969||Johnson||Vaughn took steps to improve Peace Corps marketing, programming, and Volunteer support as large numbers of former Volunteers joined the Peace Corps staff. He also promoted volunteer assignments in conservation, natural resource management, and community development.|
|3||Joseph Blatchford||1969–1971||Nixon||Blatchford served as head of the new ACTION agency, which encompassed U.S. domestic and foreign volunteer service programs including the Peace Corps. He created the Office of Returned Volunteers to help Volunteers serve in their communities at home, and initiated New Directions , a program emphasizing Volunteer skills.|
|4||Kevin O'Donnell||1971–1972||Nixon||O'Donnell's appointment was the first for a former country director (Korea, 1966–70). He worked tirelessly to save the Peace Corps from budget cuts, and believed strongly in a non-career Peace Corps. He resigned as director exactly six years after first joining the Peace Corps.|
|5||Donald Hess||1972–1973||Nixon||Hess initiated training of Volunteers in the host country where they would eventually serve. With this came the greater utilization of host country nationals in the training programs. The training provided more realistic preparation, and costs dropped for the agency. Hess also sought to end the down-sizing of the Peace Corps.|
|6||Nicholas Craw||1973–1974||Nixon||Craw sought to increase the number of Volunteers in the field and to stabilize the agency's future. He introduced a goal-setting measurement plan, the Country Management Plan , which gave a firm foundation for increased congressional support and for improved resource allocation across Peace Corps' 69 countries.|
|7||John Dellenback||1975–1977||Ford||Dellenback worked to make the best possible health care available to Volunteers. He also placed great emphasis on recruiting generalists. He believed in taking committed applicants without specific development skills and providing concentrated training to prepare them for service.|
|8||Carolyn R. Payton||1977–1978||Carter||Payton was the first female director of the Peace Corps, and the first African American. As director, she believed strongly in reflecting America's diversity in the corps of Volunteers and worked tirelessly to convince young people that Peace Corps service would enrich their lives.|
|9||Richard F. Celeste||1979–1981||Carter||Celeste focused on the role of women in development and was successful in involving women and minorities in the agency, particularly for staff positions. He invested heavily in training, including the development of a worldwide core curriculum, so that all Volunteers had a common context in which to work.|
|10||Loret Miller Ruppe||1981–1989||Reagan||Ruppe was the longest-serving director and a champion of women in development. She launched the Competitive Enterprise Development program to promote business-oriented projects. She established the Caribbean Basin Initiative, the Initiative for Central America and the African Food Systems Initiative to help address regional challenges.|
|11||Paul Coverdell||1989–1991||GHW Bush||Coverdell established two programs with a domestic focus. World Wise Schools enabled U.S. students to correspond with Volunteers serving overseas in an effort to promote international awareness and cross-cultural understanding. Fellows/USA assisted returned Volunteers in pursuing graduate studies while serving local communities in the U.S.|
|12||Elaine Chao||1991–1992||GHW Bush||Chao was the first Asian American to serve as director of the Peace Corps. She expanded Peace Corps' presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by establishing the first Peace Corps programs in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and other newly independent countries.|
|13||Carol Bellamy||1993–1995||Clinton||Bellamy was the first returned Volunteer (Guatemala 1963–65) to be confirmed by the Senate as director of the Peace Corps.|
|14||Mark D. Gearan||1995–1999||Clinton||Gearan established the Crisis Corps , a program that allows returned Peace Corps Volunteers to help overseas communities recover from natural disasters and humanitarian crises. He supported expanding the corps of Volunteers and opened new Volunteer programs in South Africa, Jordan, Bangladesh and Mozambique.|
|15||Mark L. Schneider||1999–2001||Clinton||Schneider was the second returned Volunteer (El Salvador, 1966–68) to head the agency. He launched an initiative to increase Volunteers' participation in helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also sought Volunteers to work on information technology projects to enhance development of overseas communities.|
|16||Gaddi H. Vasquez||2002–present||GW Bush||Gaddi H. Vasquez, the first Hispanic American to serve as Director of the Peace Corps, was nominated by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on January 23, 2002. His priority as Director has been to revitalize the Peace Corps through a comprehensive outreach and recruitment program focused on attracting a diverse group of Volunteers and staff from America's best and brightest.|
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