Peace Corps celebrates 50 year anniversary; 2011 budget safe for now

March 2nd, 2011 by admin

Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin, 3/1/11

The Empire State Building will be lit up red, white, and blue tonight, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps.

“Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy,” Kennedy said on March 1, 1961. “But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps — who works in a foreign land — will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.”

Kennedy set a goal of recruiting 500 Peace Corps volunteers that year. In 2011, the Peace Corps has 8,675 volunteers who serve in 77 countries. Its alumni include author Paul Theroux (Malawi, 1963-65), Chris Matthews (Swaziland, 1968-70), Sen. Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic, 1966-68), former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala (Iran, 1962-64), Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson (Tanzania, 1965-68), former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher R. Hill (Cameroon, 1974-76), and four other members of Congress.

Tonight’s commemoration in New York City kicks off over 4 months of Peace Corps events, culminating in a featured program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on June 30 to July 11.

The Peace Corps received $400 million in fiscal 2010 from Congress, and has been largely immune from the slash-and-burn mood of many House Republicans, who have proposed large cuts in rest of the international affairs budget. The House GOP’s version of funding for the rest of fiscal 2011 would keep the organization’s funding at 2010 levels.

In addition to its alumni representation on Capitol Hill, the Peace Corps has been able to stay out of the budget debate — in part because the organization is spread out over the country and therefore has advocates in many districts. The Obama administration has asked for $439.5 million for fiscal 2012, but the debate over that request has yet to begin.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement today praising the Peace Corps’ role in preparing people for careers in diplomacy and development.

“Every day, I work with dedicated colleagues at the State Department and USAID, many of whom paved the foundation for their careers in the Foreign Service and Civil Service with their years in the Peace Corps,” she said. “The Peace Corps taught them compassion, patience, and continues to bridge cross-cultural divides.”

Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps’ first leader, died in January. Here’s a video of then Senator Kennedy pitching his idea to University of Michigan students on Oct. 14, 1960, about three weeks before he was elected President.


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