Peace Corps celebrates spirit of volunteerism

Women in Kyrgyz cultural clothing smiling and looking at each other (Courtesy of Peace Corps)
Peace Corps trainees in the Kyrgyz Republic pose for a picture after performing a Kyrgyz national dance. (Courtesy of Peace Corps)

Ulugbek Khakimov, a Uzbekistan native, recalled first meeting Peace Corps volunteers in his hometown in 2003. They taught him English, and he taught volunteers how to cook pilaf and celebrate holidays such as Nowruz.

“These experiences changed my life forever,” he wrote in February.

The exchanges encouraged Khakimov, who grew up in Gulistan, Uzbekistan, to continue improving his English skills. Now he works as a press assistant for the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent.

Photo of Ulugbek Khakimov posing in front of sign next to group photo of Khakimov and others (Courtesy of Peace Corps)
Left: Ulugbek Khakimov works as a press assistant in the public diplomacy section at U.S. Embassy Tashkent. Right: Khakimov, far right, with classmates and Peace Corps volunteers in his hometown of Gulistan, Uzbekistan (Courtesy of Peace Corps)

The Peace Corps celebrates the spirit of volunteerism and the rewards of cross-cultural exchange. Founded March 1, 1961, it connects U.S. volunteers to communities around the world to tackle local challenges.

In December 2022, the Peace Corps welcomed its inaugural group of volunteers in Vietnam, the 143rd partner nation. Nine English teachers will teach alongside Vietnamese instructors in secondary schools.

“Viet Nam is a welcome addition to our global community, and I look forward to seeing how volunteers and teachers work together to inspire the next generation,” Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn said.

People fastening together red wooden strips outside with trees in background (Courtesy of Peace Corps)
Peace Corps volunteers learn how to assemble a traditional Kyrgyz yurt at Culture Day in July 2022. (Courtesy of Peace Corps)

The Peace Corps took shape following a speech by John F. Kennedy calling attention to the importance of public service on a global scale.

During a 1960 visit to the University of Michigan, Kennedy, then a U.S. senator campaigning for president, asked students if they would be willing to serve their country by living and working abroad for peace. A few months after he became president, Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps

John F. Kennedy speaking from the back of a train car to a mass of people surrounding the train (© AP)
Senator John F. Kennedy, Democratic candidate for president, speaks to a crowd estimated at 7,000 from the back of a train as he starts a tour of southeastern Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 14, 1960. (© AP)

Since then:

  • More than 240,000 Americans have served as volunteers abroad since 1961.
  • More than 7,300 volunteers served in 62 nations before COVID-19.
  • Nearly 900 Peace Corps volunteers are now serving in 45 nations.

Several volunteers found their first terms rewarding enough that they applied for a second stint in another country. Christine Palumbo served for two years in Sierra Leone teaching and collecting donations for a library as a 21-year-old.

“We all have a responsibility as global citizens, no matter where you are, to look at what’s really going on in the world and to see where we can help,” she said. “Peace Corps service is one way to help other nations.”

Decades later she returned to Costa Rica during 2018–2019 to help develop the national English exam. She also mentored English teachers in Timor-Leste in a virtual program.

Photo of woman hugging Erika Bryant, both women in African dresses, next to group photo of young people posing outdoors under canopy (Courtesy of Peace Corps)
Left: Erika Bryant, right, with a woman she met in Guinea in 1992. Right: Erika Bryant and her fellow trainees in Senegal in 1991 (Courtesy of Peace Corps)

Erika Bryant’s experiences teaching English in Guinea during the 1990s influenced decisions she made throughout her life. She lived in Mali for 10 years and worked in education before returning to the United States.

“The Peace Corps literally changed the trajectory of my life,” Bryant said. “During my service, I fell in love with the African continent.” Today she leads a charter school in Washington. Her sons are following her example by traveling abroad and learning French and Arabic.