Left Justified: Peace Corps or war corpses?

The Peace Corps has been around for 45 years. It was started by the assassinated president, John F. Kennedy, in 1961. And he put his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, in charge. A little bit of nepotism, but I think we can forgive him.

The Peace Corps attracted scores of idealistic young men and women willing to do good work in foreign lands.

The surprising thing is the United States gained as much as it gave. The volunteers were educated about the world and brought that knowledge back home to our insular USA. Our government gained more credibility than it deserves, especially in Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. And yes, there were business and military intelligence contacts that helped in the Cold War era, when we were fighting international communism.

So I invite you to help celebrate the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps at a special Coffee Talk this Monday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4848 Turner St.

Five veteran Peace Corps volunteers will share their stories while we share some birthday cake. A panel of Peace Corps veterans, moderated by Loren Floto of Rockton, will tell the tales of traveling to distant countries and working in the most primitive conditions. The panel includes Jim Peterson, director of Northwest Community Center; Christian Tscheschlok of Rock Falls, Ill.; Duane Wilke and Sue Pisano, teachers in Rockford.

Loren Floto served in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Chile; Jim Peterson served in the Dominican Republic and the Philippines. Christian was in Slovakia, Pisano in Kenya, Duane Wilke served in Korea.

These former Peace Corps volunteers will regale us with their adventures, and discuss the impact of the Peace Corps about world peace. There will be information on how to sign up as a volunteer; I encourage all those who think about helping this world to consider volunteering for the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps’ first official day was March 1, 1961. The total number of volunteers to this date is 182,000, serving in 138 countries. Right now, there are 7,810 volunteers in the field, 58 percent female and 42 percent male. Their average age is 28. They come from all walks of life, but 96 percent have at least a college degree. The volunteers serve in 77 different countries; they work in education, health, business development, environment, agriculture and other areas.

The usual period of training is three to four months, including language training. After that, two years of service is spent in the countries that invite the Corps to come. The countries specify what kind of jobs they need to have done.

The military branches recruit youngsters with slogans like “Join us and see the world” and “Be all that you can be.” Well, you can be even more and see the world without carrying a gun in the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, you won’t have as much equipment as the military. But you will have the freedom to help people, get a ground-level education that will change your life and may even make some interesting friends. Unlike the military, where you travel to distant lands, meet interesting people and kill them.

The war corps gets all the glory, media coverage and money. It’s good that we can still celebrate the Peace Corps.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the March 1-7, 2006, issue

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