Happy birthday to the Peace Corps…on this day

Woman and two boys looking at seeds in woman's hand (Courtesy Peace Corps)
A Peace Corps volunteer explains the nutritional benefits of sesame seeds to boys in Senegal. (Courtesy Peace Corps)

On September 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Peace Corps Act, making good on a promise to seek Americans “from every race and walk of life” to volunteer their services to developing countries.

The three-part mission of the Peace Corps is to:

  • Send trained volunteers to countries that want help.
  • Promote a better understanding of America around the world.
  • Help Americans better understand other peoples.

The United States “is full of young people eager to serve the cause of peace in the most useful way,” Kennedy said. Over the past 63 years, the Peace Corps has sent more than 215,000 Peace Corps volunteers to 139 countries. Check out this map to see if there are volunteers in your country.

The volunteers support a wide range of health, environmental and economic development projects that have a real impact in local communities around the world. For example, more than 3,000 volunteers across Africa are helping to prevent malaria through education and treatment programs. Others are working to prevent and provide care for HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Peace Corps volunteers frequently describe their two-year experience as transformative. They immerse themselves in the local culture and communal life, make friends, and learn local languages. On returning home, they share their stories and experiences with other Americans and use their new skills to serve their home communities.

Woman and two girls sitting on ground with small plastic pots and plates (Courtesy Peace Corps)
A Peace Corps volunteer plays with Paraguayan children. (Courtesy Peace Corps)

Tony Gasbarro volunteered in the Dominican Republic and El Salvador. Since his return, Gasbarro has shared his Peace Corps experience with nearly 600 U.S. student and community groups. Many Peace Corps alumni go on to careers in the American aid and nonprofit communities.

Since President Kennedy’s time, the Peace Corps has grown to reflect America’s own diversity. Women volunteers now outnumber men 63 percent to 37 percent. Minorities make up 24 percent of volunteers, and the average age of participants has risen to 28.7 years old.