The Peace Corps

By Jill Moss

The Peace Corps is an agency of the United States government. It has improved the lives of many people around the world. And, it has changed the lives of many Americans. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. The story of the United States Peace Corps is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

(THEME)The Peace Corps is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year. The very first American Peace Corps workers arrived in the city of Accra, Ghana, in Nineteen-Sixty-One. They were volunteers. They had agreed to work for almost no pay. They would spend two years in Ghana helping to make life better for poor people.

The Peace Corps volunteers lived and worked in much the same way as the Ghanaians they helped. They ate Ghanaian food. They spoke the local language. They followed local customs. And they learned what few Americans knew: the reality of life in a developing country.In the forty years since then, more than one-hundred-sixty-thousand Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers. They have lived in one-hundred-thirty-four developing countries.

Peace Corps volunteers have taught millions of students. They have planted crops and trees. They have started health care centers. They have built village water systems. They brought chicken farming to India. And they helped end malaria in Thailand and smallpox in Ethiopia.Today, the Peace Corps has more than seven-thousand volunteers working in seventy-six countries. They are working in agriculture, economic development, education, the environment and health care.

Peace Corps agriculture programs are designed to teach people how to grow food without damaging the land and other natural resources. In parts of central Africa, for example, volunteers taught farmers how to raise fish in fresh water areas. In Thailand, volunteers taught farmers how to improve soil conditions.The Peace Corps also has economic development programs. Volunteers provide advice and training to help small businesses develop. They work with business owners, trade groups, community leaders and local governments. In Albania, for example, volunteers helped small stores, eating places and hotels improve their businesses.

In Vanuatu, volunteers helped develop a new computer system for the country's main bank. Almost forty percent of Peace Corps volunteers serve as teachers. In Armenia, for example, a volunteer worked with a local radio station to develop programs to teach English to more people. In Nepal, volunteers helped students write books about their lives, culture and communities. The students sold their books to help earn money for school supplies.Peace Corps volunteers also help people protect and improve the environment. In Costa Rica, volunteers taught methods of planting trees to twenty-five-thousand farmers. In Sri Lanka, volunteers worked with a local environment organization to protect wetland areas.

Volunteers also help provide health care around the world. In Nicaragua, volunteers developed health education programs about preventing such diseases as cholera, malaria, and AIDS. In many African countries, they have organized programs to give children vaccine medicines to protect them from disease.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps soon after taking office in Nineteen-Sixty-One. The new program gave Americans the chance to answer the call to service that President Kennedy made in his inaugural speech. He said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for you country." Most of the first Peace Corps volunteers were young people. They had just completed university studies in general subjects. About half of these first volunteers taught English or health care.

The Peace Corps quickly became very popular among young people. By Nineteen-Sixty-Six, there were almost sixteen-thousand volunteers. Today, the Peace Corps is still a popular service organization. But there are fewer volunteers working around the world.The President of the United States appoints the head of the Peace Corps. President Bush has not yet chosen who will lead the agency under his administration. Until he decides, the Peace Corps acting director is Charles Baquet (ba-kay). He is a former volunteer who served in Somalia in the Nineteen-Sixties.

Mr. Baquet replaces Mark Schneider, who was appointed by former President Clinton. Mr. Schneider launched several new programs designed to lead the Peace Corps into the twenty-first century. He called for all volunteers in Africa to be trained as educators to help people prevent the spread of the AIDS virus. He also worked to expand the use of information technology and computers in volunteer projects and within communities.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))This month, the Peace Corps is celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Many former volunteers will visit classrooms in their local communities. They will tell students about their experiences as volunteers. They will tell about the culture, customs and language of the countries they worked in. Many cities and colleges and universities around the United States will also observe the Peace Corps anniversary.During the Peace Corps's forty-year history, the kinds of volunteers have changed. For example, there are now more women volunteers. Today sixty-one percent of Peace Corps volunteers are women. Forty years ago, less than thirty percent were women. Another difference is that most of the volunteers today are older. Today the average age is twenty-eight. In Nineteen-Sixty-One, the average age was twenty-two.

Seven percent of Peace Corps volunteers today are older than fifty. The oldest volunteer is seventy-nine. Some people join after retiring from their jobs. They can offer knowledge and skills gained from many years of experience in business, health care, or education.

In the past few years, the Peace Corps has succeeded in getting more volunteers from minority groups in the United States. This year, fourteen percent of the total number of volunteers are African-American, Asian-American, or Hispanic- American.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Working in the Peace Corps is not easy. Not everyone is able to live and work in another culture, far from home. Also, not everyone is able to deal with poor living conditions. Some Peace Corps volunteers do not finish their jobs. They return to the United States early. Many of those who served in the Peace Corps say their service was the hardest experience of their lives. Yet, they often say it was the best experience.Some people working at the Voice of America are former Peace Corps volunteers. In fact, Special English writer Jill Moss recently returned from the Peace Corps. She and her husband, Brad, lived in the Solomon Islands, in the South Pacific.

During her Peace Corps service, Jill taught English at a community school. Brad advised local government leaders about developing businesses.

Jill says one of the best parts of her service was building close relationships with her students. She still writes to many of them and urges them to work hard at school. She says teaching in a developing country was difficult. But she says her students were intelligent and she enjoyed helping them.Jill says her community in the Solomon Islands became her second family. She enjoyed learning about the Solomon Islands culture and the many languages spoken in the country. In turn, the Solomon Islanders learned about the United States. Jill says this is one of the best things a Peace Corps volunteer can do -- teach people in other countries about Americans.

Jill Moss says volunteering for the Peace Corps was a great experience because it taught her about the rest of the world. Most former volunteers agree. They say that during their Peace Corps service, they received far more than they gave.

(( THEME ))This program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jill Moss. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.