Preserve Peace Corps Goodwill Ambassadors

By now you may have heard that the federal Office of Budget Management is proposing a 37% cut to the International Affairs budget, with several programs potentially being zeroed out. Peace Corps could be on that list. We here at NPCA have been hesitant to sound the alarm without confirmed facts, preferring a more measured “wait and see” approach. But it’s clear that we can wait no longer—we must act now to preserve the Peace Corps and the enormous benefit it provides for the American citizens who serve and the communities they touch, both abroad and at home.

A Life-changing Experience

For those Americans lucky enough to serve in the Peace Corps, many see it as a pivotal life experience—one that made them the person they are today. Peace Corps provides Volunteers with a rare opportunity to step way outside our comfort zone and grow in ways we never thought possible. This comes from relating with people whose circumstances, worldviews, and daily life are so very different from our own, yet in our simple interactions in the fields, offices, and homes of our host country counterparts, finding surprisingly deep connections. We are all human, after all.

If the personal growth were not enough, Peace Corps also offers incredible professional development. “On the job training” doesn’t begin to express how Volunteers adapt to their new roles (like this Volunteer, whose BA in anthropology didn’t help much as I put my five weeks of technical forestry training into action). We gain not only the technical skills of our sector (be it forestry, small business development, or public health), but also those soft skills that are vital to success in the global marketplace, like flexibility, resourcefulness, cultural competency, and resilience. This is America’s future workforce, and it is indeed a force to be reckoned with.

Goodwill for Global Communities

Of course, Peace Corps exists to serve others—all those people around the world who need a little extra help to make their lives better. Peace Corps Volunteers enter these global communities with fresh energy, skillsets, and networks, all of which they leverage to do the most good in their short time. The change that occurs in the span of two years may be small, but the community’s empowerment—its belief in its own ability to grow—endures long after the Volunteer returns home.

Certainly these communities could have found other pathways to development, but not with the special American spin. For it’s not only the Volunteers who benefit from their daily cross-cultural interactions—the communities in which Volunteers serve also get an intimate look at an American, one who is likely much different from those portrayed in movies and news. Peace Corps Volunteers are Goodwill Ambassadors, representing the very best of the American spirit. And if that’s not in the interests of our own national security, I don’t know what is.

Bringing the World Back Home

For the rest of their lives, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) continue to be Goodwill Ambassadors, fostering cross-cultural understanding in their local communities. Peace Corps’ Third Goal—bringing the host-country’s culture back home, is perhaps the least appreciated of all Peace Corps’ goals. RPCVs do this innumerable ways as they share with friends and co-workers and airplane seatmates what they loved about their host-country—the food and festivals, the pace of life, attitudes toward work, extended family bonds, and so much more.

NPCA affiliate groups more systematically promote the Third Goal by engaging their members and the communities around them in social and service activities. Whether its an international potluck, a film festival, or campaigns to support Ebola relief or community development projects, affiliate groups are our prime mobilizers of Peace Corps Goodwill Ambassadors here at home. In so many ways, they bring to the fore our lifelong commitment to Peace Corps ideals of human development, cross-cultural understanding, friendship, and peace.

If you agree that Peace Corps produces immeasurable benefits for Americans who serve and the communities they touch abroad and at home, please join forces now to preserve them. Here are a few good places to start:

The next few days could make it or break it for the Peace Corps, so we are depending on each and every one of you for a win. Fortunately, our community is stronger than ever—if we all pitch in, we might even convince Congress to increase Peace Corps’ budget instead.

 

About the author:

Juliana Essen (RPCV Thailand 1993-1995) currently serves on NPCA’s Board of Directors.