Inspiring Update from MorePeaceCorps
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008
We just got an exciting update from the MorePeaceCorps campaign: they have reached 1,000 signatures on our letter to Senators Obama and McCain and are going strong!
One of the most inspiring parts of this campaign has been the stories those who have reached out to support it have told us. Judith Guskin (Thailand ’61-’64) wrote this letter telling the truly inspirational story of her involvement with the creation of the Peace Corps.
At 2 am on October 14, 1960 I stood with 10,000 students on the campus of the University of Michigan waiting to hear a speech by then Senator John Kennedy, a 42 year old Presidential Candidate. He had come to Michigan to go to sleep at the end of a long day of campaigning. He finally arrived, pointed at the crowd, and challenged us to use our skills to improve the lives of poor people in countries around the world. He said that through this work we would show that our generation wanted to create a better life for thousands and a more peaceful world for everyone.
I helped organize a student group to respond to this challenge, and within two weeks our group collected a thousand signatures of students who said they would like to serve in a new agency which had this mission.
During the final days before the election, Senator Kennedy, encouraged by the U. of M. student response, decided to declare he was committed to this idea of a Peace Corps (San Francisco Cow Place Speech Nov. 2nd.) and mentioned our group. The campaign contacted me and said he would like to meet the organizers of this group.
At the Toledo Ohio airport I looked into his eyes and told him of our efforts and showed him the petitions that students had signed. I asked if he was sincere in his promise to set up the agency and he replied: “Until Tuesday (Election Day) we will be concerned with the country, after that, the world!”
I treasure the memories of my Peace Corps experience in Bangkok very much and I have returned to see my Thai friends. I feel that the Peace Corps changed the work I chose to do and the way I see the world. I would encourage both Presidential candidates to support expanding the Peace Corps. Even in tough financial times, the benefits for people around the world and for our own country are certainly worth the comparatively tiny cost.
The Peace Corps represents our best values: a commitment to service and to working in harmony with others across boundaries of culture and language and disparities of wealth, in order to actively bring about development and peace. The Peace Corps inspires hope and tolerance in the world. At the time it was created, there was a Cold War with the USSR and a post-colonial world with many new countries; it helped personalize American aid in a new way. The enthusiastic smiling faces of volunteers put a “face” on our nation that was caring, working to touch the hearts and minds of others different from us, and open to be changed in return. In the words of the first Director, Sarge Shriver, volunteer/host country relationships allowed us “to share what is valuable in the spirit of each.” In the words of Bill Moyers, the first Deputy Director, it made us “citizens of the world” and gave us a unique way of “being in the world”.
Today America’s image abroad is not positive. Our nation needs a new “face” not only with the leaders of other countries but also with the world’s people. Instead of seeing only the power of our weapons and the troubles with our economy, an expanded Peace Corps will show our compassion and our hope for a better future for all those struggling to improve their lives. Sarge Shriver called it a way “to touch the deepest hopes of man.” An expansion of the Peace Corps will show the world in a people-to-people way that we are a friendly, caring people and the volunteers will return to our country with wisdom as well as commitment to tolerance and respect for people both at home and abroad. I know my experience in Thailand changed my life and I hope as many others as possible will have the opportunity to make a difference through service in the Peace Corps.”
The campaign is still collecting signatures. To add your signature or learn more about how you can participate, click here.