Peace Corps will soon celebrate its 52nd. anniversary in March 1st. of this year. The world has become much smaller since its inception.
The volunteer service the organization provides for developing countries has become stalwart of peace and friendship. From the United States to the foothills of the Himalayas, and to Ghana – public service provided by Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV), exemplifies hands on diplomacy and ground work for our international relations.
It all began with a simple message President John F. Kennedy (JFK) delivered to a group of University of Michigan students challenging them to devote their time to world peace and friendship. Obviously, Peace Corps has moved beyond a visionary leader’s attempts to pacify and quell the rising sentiments of neocolonialism during the proxy wars of Indochina and Russian-American Cold War.
In 1961, JFK established the Peace Corps by issuing Executive Order 10924. Volunteers provide two-year technical assistance and knowledge to host countries. The impact of their services encompasses long-term interest and benefits, fostering international friendship and peace. Some of these benefits, while initiating the program during turbulent times were perhaps not explicitly envisaged. Perhaps, unknown at that time, JFK’s sagacious vision one day would surpass the boundaries of globalization to assimilate cultures, geographies, languages and people.
Moving beyond altruistic, political and historical imperatives that may have summoned this creation; vision for a peaceful and friendly world continues to connect us intimately, poignantly and seamlessly. Peace Corps succeeded in attracting people like Lillian Carter from the State of Georgia to serve in India as a volunteer nurse at the age of 68! This was a significant accomplishment in the sixties.
JFK had this tremendous capacity to see the future. His farsightedness embodies the words he spoke in 1962 at the University of California in Berkeley, “we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time”. His analogy of a slow growing tree that required immediate planting, hence, providing ample time for the tree to reach its maturity may have been more apt than he ever imagined. Today the Peace Corps is the largest volunteer network that promotes diversity, knowledge exchange and cross-border cultural integration. In 1961, 14500 volunteers were assigned to 55 countries. Since then, over 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 different countries.
In 1961, the first group of 51 PCVs left the United States for Ghana to offer their two-years services as teachers. The following year in 1962, the first group of volunteers arrived in Nepal to serve in the education and agriculture sectors. As it turns out, due to some cosmic coincident, Paul, Peter, Bob and Dan – four volunteers from this first group lived in a rented apartment in my parents’ compound in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Growing up as a child, I recall our family and larger household, smile and share anecdotes and peculiarities of these four young men. My father’s friendship with some of them led to his anticipated movie nights for American films, which was a luxury not everyone had access to, so I understood. A favorite story of my mother was retold every monsoon when Bob would patiently wait for the rainwater to subside in the courtyard, and wait for dusk to reside to catch frogs for supper. My mother had a hard time understanding why these young men would jump off the veranda in the hope to catch frogs and make a meal out of the legs in garlic sauce. She worried that they ate poorly and ghastly, only for my father to reprimand her gently for being uncultured and rude. In my mother’s eyes, jumping off the veranda and eating frog legs was certainly not a sign of refined culture.
Very soon, my 23 years old son Jason − pre-school at Mount Carmel, a couple of years at Simpson Elementary, few years in Peru, Ecuador, India and Indonesia, a Georgia Tech graduate, leaves for Ghana to provide his public service as a PCV. Jason will leave his home in Peachtree Corners to teach math and science to junior high students. When he received the news of his assignment, he had a big smile on his face and said, "This is what I want to do Mom."
I am happy that I was able to give Jason a home the past few years relishing and cherishing his company and maturity, admiring what a fine man he has turned out to be. Jason will very soon savor the various flavors of cassava, yam, corn and rice, prepared in a local mushy cake, perhaps less palatable for a beginner’s new taste buds. I will remember his devouring the assortment of breads – sour dough, bagels, whole wheat, multigrain, garlic bread, muffins, croissants, not too far off the flavors of grains, just perhaps packaged differently.
I will miss him dearly. I know that his assignment will be fulfilling and rewarding. I am so proud of him.
My father would have been proud of his grandson too. His friendship with the PCVs has come to a complete circle – spanning spaces, lifetimes, experiences, joys and sorrows, from Kathmandu to Bob in New Mexico, Dan in Washington D.C., home here in Peachtree Corners and now very soon to Ghana with Jason’s assignment this summer. How global can one get?
Join me in wishing Jason my son much luck and success for his upcoming service to Ghana.