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Digital History ID 3425

 

Some 150,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps since it was formed in 1961. Peace Corps volunteers live and work for two years in communities in the developing world. They must learn the languages of the people they serve. They have worked in 132 nations. In its early years, as many as 15,000 volunteers worked in schools, clinics, and in agricultural and environmental projects.

The Peace Corps was a product of the Cold War. A week before the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy observed that the Soviet Union had "hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, and nurses...prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism." The United States had no equivalent. Kennedy feared that the United States was in danger of losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the world's peoples. He believed that a "peace corps" was the answer. "I am convinced," he said, "that our men and women, dedicated to freedom, are able to be missionaries, not only for freedom and peace, but to join in a worldwide struggle against poverty and disease and ignorance."

When John F. Kennedy proposed creating the Peace Corps during the 1960 presidential campaign, the Wall Street Journal asked: "What person can really believe that Africa aflame with violence will have its fires quenched because some Harvard boy or Vassar girl lives in a mud hut and speaks Swahili?" But today, many believe that the Peace Corps volunteers are this country’s best ambassadors.

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