White House Celebrates 50 Years of Peace Corps, USAID
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
Just before offices across Washington, DC emptied out for the Thanksgiving holiday, the White House Office of Public Engagement hosted a ceremony celebrating the 50th Anniversaries of Peace Corps and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on Wednesday, November 23.
After acknowledgement of Aaron Williams, Director of Peace Corps, and Rajiv Shah, Administrator of USAID, and an audience of people associated with both agencies, Gail Smith, Special Assistant to the President spoke. “I have the best job in the White House. I get to work with the best two agencies: Peace Corps and USAID,” she said, and went on to emphasize that her office has a strong interest in the agencies because of their service to humanity and their continuous ideas for how to do things better.
The ever youthful Sen. Harris Wofford, scanning the room, quipped, “Here we are at last celebrating in our own little operation: Occupy the White House!”
President Kennedy, Wofford said, wanted 100,000 volunteers in the field who would come home with first hand experience in Africa, to reshape U.S. foreign policy. “We are not there yet but this is a moment to look back and celebrate the 200,000 Volunteers who have served. Our model of Peace Corps service has inspired other countries to form their own volunteer service programs. We have made service ‘cool’ and have spawned numerous other service corps in the country. Peace Corps caught the imagination of people all over the world… We are ready to build on our successes of the past and create an even bigger, bolder Peace Corps.”
Sen. Wofford was one member of a panel that included Ellen Ogden, USAID Initiative for Polio Eradication; Maureen Orth. Journalist, founder of Maureen Orth Foundation, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) Colombia; Paul Weisenfeld of USAID; Virginia Emmons McNaught, RPCV Niger.
And then came President Barack Obama. The President thanked those who have given their service to the two agencies.
“I couldn’t be happier than to be here today to help both agencies celebrate 50 years. Some people in our government want to scale back on our support to Peace Corps and to USAID but I profoundly disagree. We cannot let up on our efforts to serve those less fortunate that we. It is not who we are.
“I have just returned from visits in Asia and the Pacific. Here in our country we hear questions about our ability to provide international leadership. But around the world there is no question of our leadership. Other countries see us as a country who looks after its own interest but also looks beyond its self interest. We cannot let them down.
“The Peace Corps and USAID allow us to move an agenda that is good for all. I continue to make the case for both agencies. I believe they make us more secure and make us more who we are. We are our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ keepers. And I believe our foreign policy should reflect that creed.
I want to thank all of you for what you have done here and abroad. But we cannot just look to the past. We have more to do and I ask you to continue in these commitments.”
In a deviation from protocol, Aaron Williams, Peace Corps Director spoke after the President. “I have had wonderful experiences in my life,” said Williams, “but this is the most wonderful. I get to follow the President of the United States at the podium.”
“We give thanks to those who champion Peace Corps and made it grow,” said Williams. “Let me tell you, that as I travel around the world I see that PCVs are loved, dearly beloved, by the people they work with. In Philippines I recently visited several Volunteers who are working with villages and individuals to improve their lives. Many political leaders in various countries tell me of the transformative experience they had with a PCV who made a difference in their lives.”
He concluded by saying, “We’ve come a long way since 1961 but our work is not done. We celebrate what we have done but we must not recede into the past. There is much left for us to do. We will go forward together.”
Thanks to NPCA Board member Pat Wand and NPCA President Kevin Quigley for their contributions to this post.
See more photos of the ceremony here.