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The Peace Corps was established by Executive Order 10924 on March 1, 1961, and authorized by United States Congress on September 22, 1961, with passage of the Peace Corps Act (Public Law 87-293). The Peace Corps Act declares the purpose of the Peace Corps to be:

“to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.”

Since 1960, more than 195,000 people have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries.[1][2][3]

Purpose and function[]


Countries that the Peace Corps currently works in (orange) and has worked in previously (purple). (See picture details for countries that are unhighlighted.)

The Peace Corps sends volunteers around the globe, to more than 70 countries, to work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, and entrepreneurs in the areas of education, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.

The program officially has three goals:

  • To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained workers
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans[4]

The Peace Corps works by first announcing its availability to foreign governments. These governments then determine areas in which the organization can be involved. The organization then matches the requested assignments to its pool of applicants and sends those volunteers with the appropriate skills to the countries that first made the requests.

Selection of volunteers[]

Until about 1967, applicants to the Peace Corps had to pass a placement test that tested "general aptitude" (knowledge of various skills needed for Peace Corps assignments) and language aptitude. After an address from Kennedy, who was introduced by Rev. Russell Fuller of Memorial Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, on August 28, 1961, the first group of volunteers left for Ghana and Tanzania. The program was formally authorized by Congress on September 22, 1961, and within two years over 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers were serving in 44 countries. This number would jump to 15,000 in June of 1966, which was the largest number in the organization's history.

Early controversy[]

The organization experienced major controversy in its first year of operation. On October 13, 1961, a postcard was written by a volunteer named Margery Jane Michelmore in Nigeria to a friend in the U.S. She described her situation in Nigeria as "squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions."[5][6] However, this postcard never made it out of the country.[6] The Ibadan University College Students Union demanded deportation and accused the volunteers of being "America's international spies" and the project as "a scheme designed to foster neocolonialism."[7] Soon the international press picked up the story, leading several people in the U.S. administration to question the future of the program as a whole.[8] Nigerian students protested the program, and the American volunteers sequestered themselves and eventually began a hunger strike.[6] After several days, the Nigerian students agreed to open a dialogue with the Americans.[8]

Independent status[]

File:1965 PCV card.jpg

1965 in-country identification card

By 1966, more than 15,000 volunteers were working in the field, the largest number in the Peace Corps' history.[1] In July 1971, President Richard Nixon, an opponent of the program, brought the Peace Corps under the umbrella agency ACTION. President Jimmy Carter, an advocate of the program, said that his mother, who had served as a nurse in the program, had "one of the most glorious experiences of her life" in the Peace Corps.[9] In 1979, he declared it fully autonomous in an executive order. This independent status would be further secured when Congress passed legislation in 1981 to make the organization an independent federal agency.

Programs diversified[]

File:Volunteers oath, Mauritania, September 2007.jpg

Trainees swear in as volunteers in Mauritania in September 2007.

Although the earliest Peace Corps volunteers were typically thought of as educational, agriculture and community development generalists, the Peace Corps had a variety of requests for technical personnel essentially from the start. For example, geologists were among the first volunteers requested by Ghana, an early country for the Peace Corps. An article in Geotimes (a trade publication) in 1963 reviewed the program up to that time, with a follow-up history of Peace Corps geoscientists appearing in that publication in 2004[10]. During the Nixon Administration the Peace Corps had foresters, computer scientists, and small business advisors among its volunteers.

In 1982, President Reagan appointee director Loret Miller Ruppe initiated several new business-related programs. For the first time, a large number of conservative and Republican volunteers joined the contingent of overseas volunteers, and the organization continued to reflect the evolving political and social conditions in the United States.

Funding cuts during the early 1980s dropped the number of volunteers to 5,380, its lowest level since the organization's early years. Funding began to increase in 1985, and Congress passed an initiative to raise the number of volunteers to 10,000 by 1992.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks alerted the nation to growing anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the organization within five years as a part of the War on Terrorism. For the 2004 fiscal year, Congress passed a budget increase at $325 million, $30 million above that of 2003 but $30 million below the President's request. In 2008, Barack Obama also said he would double the size of the Peace Corps,[11] giving the rising unemployed from the recession a chance to give back to the country. For many, the Peace Corps is a way for people usually lacking employment a chance to learn some skills.

The Peace Corps intended to double the number of volunteers it sent abroad by 2007 in accordance with President Bush's request in 2002. According to Joseph Kennedy, "The American reputation has taken a hit in the last couple of years. The need for the Peace Corps couldn't be more urgent. The Peace Corps shows what is best in America, the generosity of spirit." The Peace Corps is trying to get more diverse volunteers of different ages. This is important so that the Peace Corps can look, according to former director Gaddi Vasquez, "more like America." An article published by the Harvard International Review in 2006 argues that the time has come not only to expand the Peace Corps but also to revisit its mission and equip it with new technology to transform it into a 21st-century engine for peace through the global sharing of knowledge.

In 1961 only 1% of volunteers were over 50, compared with 5% today. Ethnic minorities currently comprise 17% of volunteers.[12] Married couples are welcome and can work together.

Peace Corps Response[]

Peace Corps Response, formerly named the Crisis Corps, was created by Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan in 1996.[13] On November 19, 2007 Peace Corps Director Ronald Tschetter announced that Crisis Corps will be changing its name to Peace Corps Response.[14]

This change is the result of an ongoing effort by the Peace Corps to better define the work of its volunteers. The change to Peace Corps Response will allow Peace Corps to broaden their approach to their five programming areas to include projects that do not necessarily rise to the level of a ‘crisis.’

The program sends former Peace Corps volunteers to foreign countries to take on short-term, high-impact assignments that typically range from three to six months in duration.

Peace Corps Response volunteers generally receive the same allowances and benefits as their Peace Corps counterparts, including round-trip transportation, living and readjustment allowances, and medical care. Minimum qualifications for Crisis Corps volunteers include completion of at least one year of Peace Corps service, excluding training, in addition to medical and legal clearances.

The Crisis Corps title will be retained as a unique branch within Peace Corps Response, designed for volunteers who are deployed to true “crisis” situations, such as disaster relief following hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and other catastrophes.

Laws governing the Peace Corps[]

Executive orders[]

  • 1961 - 10924 - Establishment and administration of the Peace Corps in the Department of State (Kennedy)
  • 1962 - 11041 - Continuance and administration of the Peace Corps in the Department of State (Kennedy)
  • 1971 - 11603 - Assigning additional functions to the Director of ACTION (Nixon)
  • 1979 - 12137 - The Peace Corps (Carter)

Time limits on employment[]

Peace Corps employees receive time-limited appointments and most employees are limited to a maximum of five years (60 months) of employment with the agency. This time-limit is referred to as the "five-year rule" and was established to ensure that Peace Corps' staff remain fresh and innovative. Another rule related to the "five year rule" specifies that former Peace Corps employees cannot be re-employed by Peace Corps until they have been out of the agency's employment for the same amount of time that they worked for the Peace Corps. Service as a Peace Corps Volunteer overseas is not counted for the purposes of either of these rules.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Peace Corps in the media[]

Books about the Peace Corps[]

Hundreds of Returned Peace Corps volunteers have written books about their countries of service[15] but five books that are among the most notable for capturing the positive and the negative of the Peace Corps experience are the following:

  • Published in 1969, Moritz Thomsen's Living Poor recounts the author's service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador.[16] RPCV Paul Theroux said that Living Poor was the best book he ever read on the Peace Corps experience[17] and Tom Miller wrote that Thomsen was "one of the great American expatriate writers of the 20th century."[16] "And as an expat, he was free to judge us all, an undertaking he finessed with acute observations, self-deprecation, and a flavorful frame of reference that ranged from a Tchaikovsky symphony to a Sealy Posturpedic mattress."[16]
  • Alan Weiss's 1968 account of Peace Corps training, High Risk, High Gain, has been called "perhaps the most obscure, least known, and most unread" of all the great books written about the Peace Corps experience.[18] Trainees in those days were classified by risk and by gain and Weiss discovered in his training days that he had been classified as High Risk/High Gain, a potential "Supervolunteer" or a potential "crash and burn."[18] Weiss's book is funny, outrageous and sad but also valuable because it captures the “craziness” of those early years at the Peace Corps.[18]
  • George Packer's The Village of Waiting (1988) is "one of the most wrenchingly honest books ever written by a white person about Africa, a bracing antidote to romantic authenticity myths and exotic horror stories alike," wrote Matt Steinglass.[19] Isak Dinesen, Packer notes, wrote of waking in the Kenyan highlands and thinking, "Here I am, where I ought to be." Packer himself woke up sweating, hungry, "mildly at ease, or mildly anxious. But never where I ought to be."[19]
  • For a history of the Peace Corps' early days, Coates Redmond's Come as You Are recounts the birth of the Peace Corps and how it was literally thrown together in a matter of weeks. "The book works as a charming, first-person history of the people who made the corps what it was in its formative years," says Charles DeBenedetti at the University of Toledo.[20] "This book is highly readable and essential to understand the evolution of the unique Peace Corps spirit and style that continues to characterize the agency almost 45 years later," wrote Maureen Carroll, an early Peace Corps volunteer.[21]
  • Tom Bissell served as a Peace Corps volunteer for a few months in Uzbekistan in 1996 before he "early terminated". However, Bissell felt he had really failed the people he joined the Peace Corps to help, so he returned to Uzbekistan in 2001 to write Chasing the Sea about the Aral Sea. However, "the secret, personal point of the journey was revisiting this failure of mine, to try to make something up to the country and people I’d abandoned," says Bissell.[22] "My ambitions were actually pretty modest. I wanted to write a book that everyone who traveled to Central Asia would want to read, and I wanted to write a book that everyone who joins the Peace Corps has pressed upon them," Bissell said.[22][22]

See also[]

  • National Peace Corps Association
  • AmeriCorps


  1. (2007). Congressman Crenshaw Honors Local Peace Corps volunteers. United States Congressman Ander Crenshaw. URL accessed on 2005-05-11.
  2. includeonly>"The Peace Corps in the Philippines", The Manila Times, 2007-04-21. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.
  3. Wilson, Jeff (2006). Peace Corps: A Change of Mind and Heart. Whitworth College. URL accessed on 2007-05-12.
  4. Mission What is Peace Corps? Peace Corps. URL accessed on 2009-02-21.
  5. includeonly>"Peace Corps Girl Stirs Anger In Nigeria by Alleging 'Squalor'", New York Times, 1961-10-16, pp. 10. Retrieved on 2006-09-18.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 (2007). The infamous Peace Corps postcard. Peace Corps Writers. URL accessed on 2007-05-11.
  7. includeonly>"Postcard to Friend Reporting 'Primitive Living' Leads to Protest by Students", New York Times, 1961-10-16, pp. 10. Retrieved on 2006-09-18.
  8. 8.0 8.1 includeonly>"RIFT ON PEACE CORPS HEALING IN NIGERIA", New York Times, 1961-11-07, pp. 7. Retrieved on 2006-09-18.
  9. Yee, Daniel (2005). Jimmy Carter said his mother's service in the Peace Corps as a nurse when she was 70 years old "was one of the most glorious experiences of her life.". Peace Corps Online. URL accessed on 2007-05-11.
  10. Hastings, David, ed., 2004. Geoscientists in the Peace Corps. Geotimes, August 2004.
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named fast facts
  13. Peace Corps Hotline. "Crisis Corps: Opportunity to serve again" by Melinda Bridges. November 1, 2002
  14. Peace Corps "Peace Corps Press Release" November 19, 2007
  15. Peace Corps Writers. "915 Peace Corps volunteer writers by country"
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Tucson Weekly. "Under the Skin of a Locale" by Tom Miller. June 16, 2005.
  17. International Traveler. "The Farm on the River of Emeralds" by Moritz Thomsen reviewed by Brad Newsham.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Peace Corps Writers. "High Risk/High Gain: A Freewheeling Account of Peace Corps Training" by Alan Weiss. Reviewed by John Coyne. May 11, 2005.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Salon. "Destination: Togo" by Matt Steinglass.
  20. Amazon Books. "Come as You Are" by Coates Redmond. 1986.
  21. Peace Corps Writers. "Remembering Coates Remon" by Maureen Carroll. May, 2005.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Random House. "A Conversation with Tom Bissell"

Further reading[]

External links[]

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