In Baghdad, Former “Volunteers” Celebrate 50 Years of the Peace Corps

March 2nd, 2011 by bobebill

From the Department of State website

2011 is going to be a big year for the Peace Corps as the agency marks its 50th anniversary with celebrations around the United States and at locations throughout the world where Peace Corps Volunteers are serving and have served. To date, more than 200,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries, and currently there are 8,655 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in 77 countries.

One of the earliest celebrations to mark Peace Corps’ 50th took place in Iraq last summer. On August 3, 2010, Ambassador Chris Hill, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and a Returned Peace Corp Volunteer (RPCV) himself, hosted more than thirty RPCVs and supporters at his official residence in Baghdad for a BBQ celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps. Former volunteers are now working around Iraq, in government and contracting companies, including the U.S. State Department, USAID, USDA, Office for Provincial Affairs, and CPI.

While Africa was particularly well represented at the BBQ, there were also multiple volunteers from Ecuador and the Solomon Islands. Ambassador Hill noted the importance of Peace Corps experiences in his own life, remembering his time on an old motorcycle making the rounds to rural credit unions in Cameroon. Muddy tracks to village offices and Ministerial meeting rooms only appear miles apart to non-RPCVs — volunteers understand that both worlds are best navigated by building relationships and maintaining individual commitment. Our colleague Erin Eddy proved this point by traveling by truck, C-130 and helicopter to make the BBQ that she had helped plan.

Referencing Tom Hanks’ character in the film Volunteers, Ambassador Hill congratulated all the former Volunteers for continuing to find ways to build cultural bridges and create opportunities around the world in spite of periods of misgivings. The personal pictures from the Ambassador’s tour were the perfect accompaniment to great food, a few drinks, and several shells of Pacific Islands kava.

Just like in Iraq, RPCVs can be found in all career fields today, throughout the United States and around the globe. The agency and its spirit have grown from the seed that then-Senator John F. Kennedy planted during an impromptu speech to 5,000 students at 2:00 in the morning at the University of Michigan into an important part of American culture. From the first volunteers that arrived in Ghana and Tanganyika in 1961 to those that join the ranks of the Foreign Service today, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have made a difference in the world, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Posted by William Pryor and William Strassberger / March 01, 2011
About the Authors: William Pryor serves as Senior Rule of Law Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and William Strassberger serves as Public Affairs Chief in the Bureau of African Affairs.

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