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  • Tiffany James posted an article
    Updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country and around the world see more

    News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.


    By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)


    Maggie Eckerson (pictured, Belize 2019–20), was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorpsSabra Ayres (Ukraine 1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP), leveraging nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies. Bridget Mulkerin (Senegal 2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. We share news about more awards, a newly published memoir, and new roles in USAID El Salvador, universities, and advocacy nonprofits.

    Have news to share with the Peace Corps community? Let us know.


    In August, Maggie Eckerson (2019–20) was awarded two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award because of her service in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Eckerson was serving with the Peace Corps in Belize but had to leave when all Volunteers were brought home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She began serving with AmeriCorps in summer 2020, working in the National Civilian Community Corps program and then Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). For the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, one must contribute more than 4,000 hours of service in their lifetime. Eckerson was able to achieve this goal through her work in the AmeriCorps in her Independent Service Projects and the year she spent working with The Catholic University of America during her second year with the AmeriCorps. During her time with the Catholic University of America, Eckerson led a program mentoring middle school students to prepare them for college.





    Chris Cushing (1981–84) was appointed the Mission Director to USAID El Salvador in August, overseeing bilateral and regional programs in Central America and Mexico. For nearly a decade, Cushing has served in several leadership roles within USAID, such as Mission Director in Ecuador as well as the Barbados-based USAID Eastern and Southern Caribbean Mission before assuming the same role at USAID Haiti from February 2020 to May 2022. Weeks after being sworn into his role in Haiti, Cushing rolled up his sleeves to work with the people of Haiti through the COVID pandemic shutdown, a president assassination, and a devastating earthquake that killed over 2,000 people. During the earthquake in 2021, Cushing coordinated the dispatch of search and rescue teams to communities in southern Haiti at the epicenter of the earthquake. “El Salvador, as we know, has its own significant challenges: a lack of economic opportunity coupled with significant violent crime, including some of the highest rates of femicide in the world,” said USAID Administrator Samantha Power during Cushing’s swearing-in ceremony in August. “[Cushing] has quite the task ahead of him, but I know he is up for it. His caring spirit and caretaker mindset bring reassurance and solace to those around him.”




    Maryam Saifee (2000–02) became a Council on Foreign Relations life member in June. The Council on Foreign Relations is a prestigious membership, including over 5,000 prominent leaders in the foreign policy arena. For more than a decade, Saifee has worked with the U.S. Department of State. She is currently serving as a senior advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to embarking on her career within the U.S. Foreign Service, Saifee was a consultant for the Ford Foundation, designing outreach and recruitment strategy for senior staff in Ford’s human rights, asset-building, and reproductive rights portfolios. After completing her Peace Corps service in Jordan, she served with AmeriCorps and supported South Asian survivors of domestic violence. In 2016, Saifee published an opinion piece in The Guardian sharing her personal story as a survivor of female genital cutting.





    Josh Josa (2010–12) was honored with the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal, an honor reserved for the most innovative and exceptional federal workers. As a member of the Deaf community and a first-generation Hungarian-American, Josa’s commitment to equity and inclusion in education is fueled by his first-hand experience with the stigma, barriers, and lack of resources students with disabilities face in school. While working as an inclusive education specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Josa has sought to design and implement programs delivering quality, equitable, and inclusive education to all children and youth. He has worked tirelessly to advance educational inclusivity for students with disabilities, whether it be in Morocco, Kenya, or the United States.





    Quintella Cobb (2019–20) took on a new role as Wellness Educator at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, beginning in September. She had been serving as a health promotion specialist at Tulane University. With the Peace Corps, Cobb served as an HIV/AIDS and Adolescent Health Volunteer. In March 2020, she and all other Volunteers were brought home because of COVID-19. 








    Katie Baird (1984–87) published a new memoir, Growing Mangos in the Desert, chronicling her Peace Corps service in a Mauritanian village during a catastrophic drought and the relationships and change she nurtured over the four decades that followed. Baird is a professor of economics at the University of Washington in Tacoma. With expertise in public economics and public policy, Baird worked for policy organizations in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Massachusetts, before embarking on her career in academia. For three years, she was a public affairs columnist for The News Tribune in Tacoma.







    Bridget Mulkerin (2018–20) became the California Cone Corps Manager at American Forests, a nationwide nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring healthy forest ecosystems. Mulkerin’s responsibilities will involve building capacity of cone collection and creating resilient forests across California. Mulkerin served in Peace Corps Senegal, focusing on agroforestry. Her Peace Corps service fueled her interest in pursuing a master’s in international environmental policy from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. “From a young age, I enjoyed exploring the woods behind my childhood home,” says Mulkerin when discussing why she is grateful for her job at American Forests. “As I got older, I appreciated the opportunities I had to travel and explore forests all over the world. Further understanding forest ecosystems and the services they provide for all life; I have been driven to protect them.”





    Amy Runyon Harms (1997–2000) has been appointed Senior Vice President of Operations and Strategy at Inseparable — an advocacy nonprofit championing for mental health policies that help the U.S. heal and thrive. Harms brings to the role over 20 years of direct service, foundation, and advocacy experience, including directorial positions at The Gill Foundation, ProgressNow Colorado, and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). During her time with PPRM, Harms served as director of political outreach and focused on electing political supporters of pro-family planning policies, comprehensive sex education, and full access to women’s reproductive health care.




    Mario Lopez-Rodriguez (2019–20) is completing a master’s in public health at Emory University. With the Peace Corps, he served as a community health extension officer in the village of Kidogozero. “My service as a Peace Corps volunteer helped define my passion for global health,” he said in a recent interview. “It allowed me the opportunity to learn, live and work with a community that I wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. It also taught me the importance of cultural humility and putting effort into learning about the communities I seek to serve.” Born in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in 1993, Lopez-Rodriguez emigrated to Tennessee with his family in 2000. He completed a bachelor’s in nursing at the University of Memphis.






    Sabra Ayres (1995–97) was named Chief Correspondent for Ukraine at The Associated Press (AP) last month. In this new role, Ayres will manage and coordinate AP’s all-format coverage of Ukraine, including text, photography, and video storytelling. Ayres has nearly two decades of reporting that covered U.S. state and national politics, international relations, and developing democracies — with bylines from Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, Europe and India. Ayres was the 2016 recipient of the Front Page Marie Colvin Award for Best Foreign Correspondence for her coverage of Ukraine and Europe’s migrant crisis. She also taught journalism at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and worked as a visiting professor at the India Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore.

     October 05, 2022
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Volunteers had projects and grants to fund them. They had to leave and the money was frozen. see more

    Volunteers had projects and grants to fund them. They had to leave and the money was frozen. But that’s not the end of the story.

    By NPCA Staff


    Photo: Katherine Patterson and students of Bumbuta Secondary School in Tanzania. Patterson started the Save the Rain project to provide clean water for the school community.


    When Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated from around the world, we heard from thousands asking for advice and help. They were not only worried about their own well-being, but time and again they wanted to know: What about the communities they left? the work they were doing? the projects developed together — already approved for Peace Corps grants that would now be frozen?

    Our answer: the Community Fund. We set up an application process for Volunteers and reached out to the Peace Corps community for crowdfunding support. Regulations for the Peace Corps grant programs require a Volunteer to be in a community to oversee a project. As a nonprofit organization, National Peace Corps Association ramped up a more flexible solution. That especially makes sense when many Volunteers are in regular contact with their host communities. Thanks to your support, some projects are already fully funded. Some are seeking contributors. We get new applications from evacuated Volunteers each week — and we welcome more.


    Vanuatu | Chelsea Bajek

    Home: Rochester, New York / Arlington, Virginia

    For close to two years I served as a Community Health and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Education (WASH) Volunteer. I lived and worked in a small rural community on Paama Island, where I was given the name Lumi. I helped facilitate water and sanitation projects and programs to improve awareness on health, nutrition, and hygiene. I had been accepted to extend my service for a third year to work with the Ministry of Health in the capital on public health initiatives. When we were evacuated, I left behind not only my belongings, my house, my work, but also my community and my family and friends. I left behind people I called Mama and Papa, auntie and uncle, brother and sister, and countless abus (grandparents).

    One of the projects I was working on was with the local women’s group, helping them to raise funds to purchase sewing machines and related materials to be used in skill-building workshops. We had an open Peace Corps Partnership Program grant, but we lost funding when Volunteers were evacuated. There are limited resources on this small remote island, and supporting the Paama Women’s Handicraft Center will help increase opportunities for women’s economic development and empowerment; the clothing and baskets they make will be sold to pay school fees and support families. Though I am back in the United States, I continue to work with the women’s group on this project, believing it can provide real change for these women. 




    Benin | Cristal Ouedraogo | FUNDED!

    Home: Montgomery County, Maryland

    In Benin, women and girls face more barriers to education than men and boys. As an education volunteer, I heard people in my community express a desire to bridge that gap. So we put together a plan for a literacy and research center to create a safe space for girls to pursue academic excellence and increase gender equity in school — and give them the tools needed to be independent, lifelong learners outside the classroom. The project will benefit some 500 secondary school students — boys as well as girls — and provide technology training for teachers and community members as well.

    The project was approved for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant that was suspended when I was evacuated. But with support the Peace Corps community has given through NPCA, we’ll still help these students — and inspire boys and girls to thrive academically, socially, and creatively.


      Speak and Spell: Cristal Ouedraogo was working with these students in Benin when she had to evacuate. A grant from the Community Fund will ensure the project she started becomes reality. 

    Moldova | Alyssa Gurkas

    Home: Westfield, New Jersey

    To combat violence against women and empower the female population in Hînceşti, Moldova, I worked with colleagues at the Mihai Viteazul Middle School to develop a plan for a tech-equipped community room. It would also host seminars on domestic violence, financial literacy, and online safety. It will benefit teachers and parents and scores of students. The funds will be used to purchase a smartboard, a computer, speakers, printer, paper, markers, flip-chart, notebooks, and lunches for seminars.

    Originally this project was going to be funded through Peace Corps’ Small Project Assistance Program, but due to the COVID-19 evacuation the project was canceled before it even began. The school actually had installed internet and already purchased chairs and desks fulfilling their community contribution — 25 percent of the grant that was required — only to find out that the project was then canceled. That hit my colleagues hard.

    But when I let them know that the Community Fund might still make it possible, English teacher Aliona Goroholschi wrote me: “I felt happiness without edges … Anything is possible when you have people who care and support you.”


    Colombia | Elyse Magen | FUNDED!

    Home: San Francisco, California

    As a Peace Corps Volunteer I was working with a women’s group in Santa Marta who harvest cacao and make artisanal chocolate desserts. These women are all cacao farmers themselves and have had little economic opportunity. They have not had a formal education; at a young age, they were displaced due to violence in their region. But with the business they have started, Transformación, they will be building disposable income in a culture where women have little opportunity to work.

    The grant provided by the NPCA Community Fund will allow them to carve out a workspace that complies with health sanitation codes. It will allow them to purchase machinery to make an edible chocolate bar, which will expand their market and increase profits. This, in turn, will allow them to provide for their families and invest not only in themselves but also in their children. Transformación hopes that other women can get involved in their business and that it can symbolize a wave of social change.



    Tanzania | Katherine Patterson | FUNDED!

    Home: Washington, D.C.

    With the secondary school in my community of Bumbuta, I was working on a rainwater catchment system and handwashing stations to increase access to clean water. Right now, students must carry large buckets containing drinking and cleaning water to school every morning; the water that many bring comes from unsanitary sources. With a rainwater catchment system, the school community will gain access to clean water — and improve education on water, sanitation, and hygiene practices.

    The project was approved but funding was halted as a result of the COVID-19 evacuation. I was over the moon when I found out there’s another option for funding. My ward executive officer messaged: “We wanna thank you so much tusaidie ... we love you so much!”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To leave the world a bit better ... to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.” I’ll be able to keep a promise to myself to leave my village in a better place than when I arrived. More important, this will enable students to live healthier lives! 



    Colombia | Joshua Concannon

    Home: Kansas City, Missouri

    I was working on an effort to train dozens of women in clothing design and production by providing them with technical workshops and entrepreneurship classes from professionals. Their community is heavily reliant on agriculture for its source of jobs, so this project will diversify the economy — and provide jobs and sources of income for women. We worked together on a grant application and were approved through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. The women were overjoyed — and justifiably proud.

    One week later, all Volunteers were evacuated and Peace Corps rescinded the funds. But the opportunity with NPCA has revived my hope. Edilsa Mascote, the leader behind the project, was very emotional when I told her that there is still a chance we can get the funding. She started tearing up because she thought all hope was lost. She told me it was the perfect light they needed in their lives during this very dark time.


    Learn more about these and other projects supported by the Community Fund — and make a gift to help Volunteers complete them.

    This story was first published in WorldView magazine’s Summer 2020 issue. Read the entire magazine for free now in the WorldView app. Here’s how:

    STEP 1 - Create an account: Click here and create a login name and password. Use the code DIGITAL2020 to get it free.

    STEP 2 - Get the app: For viewing the magazine on a phone or tablet, go to the App Store/Google Play and search for “WorldView magazine” and download the app. Or view the magazine on a laptop/desktop here.

    Thanks for reading. And here’s how you can support the work we’re doing to help evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers.

     August 13, 2020
  • Steven Saum posted an article
    Updated January 18, 2022: The killing of Rabia Issa and handling of the aftermath by the agency see more

    An investigative story by USA Today published December 21 chronicles the killing of Rabia Issa, a mother of three in Tanzania, who was struck by a car driven by a Peace Corps staff member in August 2019. Members of the Peace Corps community have begun working to try to bring justice for her family. And they want greater transparency from the agency.


    By Glenn Blumhorst


    On December 21, USA Today published an investigative story chronicling the killing of Rabia Issa, a mother of three in Tanzania, who was struck by a car driven by a U.S.-born Peace Corps staff member in August 2019. 

    What happened is absolutely appalling. It has sent shock waves through the Peace Corps community, and rightly so. National Peace Corps Association condemns the actions that led to Rabia Issa’s death. They speak to a lack of morality and values that representatives of the Peace Corps must embody. How the aftermath has been handled is deeply disturbing as well, and points to a need for a deeper cultural shift within the agency — with a critical focus on transparency. 

    Reporters for USA Today identified the individual driving the car as John M. Peterson, who was at the time serving as director of management and operations for the Peace Corps in Tanzania. 

    The summary of this horrific incident by the Office of Inspector General for the Peace Corps includes this narrative:

    After drinking an undetermined amount of alcohol at a bar, the employee picked up a sex worker on a street in his diplomatic-plated vehicle and brought her back to his U.S. government-leased residence, where he exchanged money for sexual activity with her. While driving her back to the area where he picked her up, the employee’s car struck three host country nationals in separate but successive incidents, causing injury to the employee and severe injury to bystanders, including one fatality. After the initial accident, a group of onlookers pelted the employees’ vehicle with rocks. The employee then sped off in the vehicle and was chased down by a group of motorcycles. During the chase the employees’ [sic] vehicle struck and killed a street vendor. The employee was eventually transported to a police station where he refused a breathalyzer and was released so that he could receive medical attention. The Peace Corps and U.S. Embassy arranged a medevac to the United States for the employee. The host country was unable to pursue prosecution before the medevac took place, and the U.S. Department of Justice declined prosecution, citing a lack of jurisdiction. OIG referred the matter to the agency for administrative action and security clearance review. The employee’s clearance was revoked, and he resigned from his position.


    The USA Today story notes that Volunteers in the country were not told of the incident at the time. One Volunteer who was serving in Tanzania at the time and learned of the incident while they were there told USA Today, “The people who normally work for Peace Corps, and the Volunteers especially, they’re really great people. They’re there to help and support and empower people,” she added. “And incidents like these are tragic and terrible and need to be handled properly,” she said, because we don’t want them to be a stain on the organization — and hiding them only deepens the stain.

    We could not agree more. The actions of this individual undermine the fundamental mission of the Peace Corps to “build peace and friendship.” 

    Most important, the actions that night led to the death of one woman and the injury of others. Those actions and their follow-up also put Volunteers at risk. 

    Please take the time to read the story in USA Today. Understand who Rabia Issa was — as a sister and mother and breadwinner for her family, including her work setting up a roadside stand in the predawn hours to sell cassava, doughnuts, and plates of meat and rice. (For those who do not have a USA Today subscription, the story should be accessible on Apple News, Yahoo News, and other sites.) And stay engaged as members of the Peace Corps community work together to try to achieve justice for Rabia Issa’s family.


    Meaningful Action for the Family. And Systemic Change for the Agency.

    We have been in touch with returned Volunteers from across the world — those who served in Tanzania and many other countries, in recent years and decades ago — who want to see that justice is brought to Rabia Issa’s family. The Peace Corps community also wants to see systemic change so that nothing like this happens again — with critical focus on transparency within the agency. This matters for the sake of the safety of Volunteers and the credibility of the Peace Corps. And it matters because an innocent life has been lost, and how matters have been handled in the aftermath have brought further pain to the family.

    There are many in the Peace Corps community who want to take action now. One effort includes a GoFundMe page established by returned Volunteer Libby Glabe, who served in Sierra Leone. Friends of Tanzania, a group formed by returned Volunteers who served with the Peace Corps in Tanzania, will be issuing a letter demanding action and accountability. 

    Another team of returned Volunteers is working to harness the desire for action in ways that will ensure that actions going forward will meet the needs of Rabia Issa’s family. They have created a Facebook group, Justice for Rabia Issa. And it is important to underscore this fact: Rabia Issa’s family has been living with this tragedy since August 2019. It is only now that broad attention is being drawn to this crime here in the United States. If the family had given up hope for justice, that is understandable. But we want to ensure that justice is done for the family. And we want to ensure that the efforts of the Peace Corps community truly try to address the family’s needs, rather than what we think is best for them. 

    That is what Peace Corps Volunteers do: We learn to listen, understand needs within communities, and then shape action for change. And that is what we must do now.

    One of the details of this story that many find atrocious is the fact that after the death of Rabia Issa, the Peace Corps staff member was kept on salary. The agency confirms that federal law requires foreign service employees to be kept on salary while their security clearance has been suspended. But there is a provision in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that would change that: It would allow federal agencies to suspend foreign service employees without pay as soon as the final decision regarding their security clearance has been made. Congress has passed that legislation. It is awaiting President Biden’s signature. This will be a change in how a bureaucratic system functions. And this is part of the work — though a small part — that needs to happen to make the system more just.


    The USA Today story notes an unsettling parallel between the killing of Rabia Issa in Tanzania and the killing of Harry Dunn in the United Kingdom three days later. Dunn was a 19-year-old motorcyclist who was hit by a car driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. diplomat. Following that incident, there was a civil case filed in Virginia, and an undisclosed settlement was subsequently reached. A criminal case is slated to begin in the U.K. in 2022.

    The court cases followed tremendous public outcry over the incident in the U.K. But, the USA Today story notes, “There has been no such outrage or outpouring of support for Rabia Issa and her family.” 

    With the harsh light this story has shone on Rabia Issa’s needless death, that has changed. We will keep the Peace Corps community apprised of efforts in the weeks ahead to support justice for Rabia Issa’s family. And we will ensure that the agency and members of Congress understand that when it comes to transparency and ensuring that Peace Corps staff live up to Peace Corps ideals, the agency must do better.


    Updates from January 2022


    Letter from Friends of Tanzania to the Acting Director of the Peace Corps

    On January 5, the president of Friends of Tanzania sent a letter to Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn expressing “outrage at this incident and our disappointment as to how this incident appears to have been handled by the Peace Corps and the United States Government.” One “result of this tragedy and its handling by the Peace Corps and the USG has been to severely impact the reputation of the Peace Corps in this country and may well have done the same in Tanzania,” the letter notes. “Indeed, it is certainly possible that this tragedy, and the perception of how it was handled, could jeopardize the re-introduction of Peace Corps Volunteers into Tanzania.”

    The letter is signed by Allison Eriksen, who serves as president of Friends of Tanzania, an affiliate group of National Peace Corps Association. Eriksen herself served as a Volunteer in Tanzania 2009–11.

    The letter calls for policy and statutory changes — understanding they may be a tall order and create a heavier burden for the agency and staff in the future. “However, we view the Peace Corps as a different type of agency,” the letter says, “one committed to working with those in a host country, and, by encouraging and placing thousands of volunteers worldwide each year, one which has an obligation to those volunteers to ensure that the Peace Corps staff and its volunteers conduct themselves in ways that demonstrate to the citizens of the host country that all those associated with the Peace Corps in whatever capacity are respectful, fair and just members of the community.”

    Read the full text of the letter here.


    Statement from the Acting Director of the Peace Corps on the Death of Rabia Issa

    On January 7, Acting Director of the Peace Corps Carol Spahn released a statement on the “horrible tragedy” of Rabia Issa’s death, and underscoring that “we grieve the incredible loss to her family, friends, and community.”

    The statement notes, “We recognize the deep pain that was caused by Ms. Issa’s death, as well as the inequities that exist. Our ongoing work is grounded in a commitment to equity and ensuring our mission is clearly centered in our host communities. We expect all staff and every Volunteer to enter service with deep humility and respect as we seek to foster peace and understanding across cultures. We are committed to doing everything within our power to pursue policy, legislative, enhanced training, and other solutions to bolster accountability.”

    Read the full statement here.


    Follow-up Story by USA Today on January 18, 2022

    On January 18, USA Today published a follow-up story on the death of Rabia Issa. That story underscores NPCA’s position on this appalling situation — and that it shows imperative for a culture shift within the agency. Peace Corps going forward must be more transparent and ensure that the agency holds itself and its staff to a standard that embodies the mission of building peace and friendship.


    Story updated January 18, 2022, to include links to Friends of Tanzania letter, statement by the Acting Director of the Peace Corps, and follow-up story by USA Today.

    Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.

     December 24, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    8/28/61 Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver leads 80 Ghana and Tanganyika Peace Corps Volunteers see more

    The legislation that permanently created the Peace Corps had yet to pass the Senate. But the Peace Corps had been launched by an executive order issued in March. And the first Volunteers were about to embark on service in Ghana and Tanganyika.


    A moment in time: August 28, 1961. Founding Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver leads 80 Volunteers who are headed for Ghana and Tanganyika, now Tanzania, to the White House, where President John F. Kennedy will give them a personal send-off.

    JFK thanks them for embarking on their service, “on behalf of our country and, in the larger sense, as the name suggests, for the cause of peace and understanding.”

    Two days later, on August 30, after a 23-hour flight from Washington, 51 Volunteers will land in Accra, Ghana, to begin their service as teachers. We’re grateful to them and the communities that have worked together with Volunteers over the past six decades. The mission of the Peace Corps, then as now, is to build peace and friendship. As if we needed reminding, that’s work far from finished.



     Photograph by Rowland Scherman, Peace Corps. Courtesy the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

     August 28, 2021
  • Brian Sekelsky posted an article
    A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded — and the world into which it emerged see more

    A look at the year in which the Peace Corps was founded with great aspirations — and the troubled world into which it emerged.


    Research and editing by Jake Arce, Orrin Luc, and Steven Boyd Saum


    Map images throughout from 1966 map of Peace Corps in the World. Courtesy Library of Congress.


    For the Peace Corps community, 1961 is a year that holds singular significance. It is the year in which the agency was created by executive order; legislation was signed creating congressional authorization and funding for the Peace Corps; and, most important, that the first Volunteers trained and began to serve in communities around the world.

    But the Peace Corps did not emerge in a vacuum. The year before, 1960, became known as the Year of Africa — with 17 nations on that continent alone achieving independence. Winds of change and freedom were blowing.

    So were ominous gales of the Cold War — roaring loud with nuclear tests performed by the United States and Soviet Union. Or howling through a divided Europe, when in the middle of one August night East German soldiers began to deploy concrete barriers and miles of razor wire to make the Berlin Wall.

    In May 1961, as the first Peace Corps Volunteers were preparing to begin training, across the southern United States the Freedom Riders embarked on a series of courageous efforts to end segregation on interstate transport. This effort in the epic struggle for a more just and equitable society was often met with cruelty and violence. 




    January 3

    Outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower announces that the United States has severed diplomatic relations with Cuba.



    January 8

    France holds referendum on independence of Algeria: 70%  vote in favor.





    Charlayne Hunter

    January 9

    Charlayne Hunter, left, and Hamilton Holmes become the first Black students to enroll at University of Georgia. Hunter aspires to be a journalist, Holmes a doctor. White students riot, trying to drive out Hunter and Holmes. A decade before, Horace Ward, who is also Black, unsuccessfully sought admission to the law school.

    Charlayne Hunter-Gault indeed goes on to become a journalist and foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, CNN, and the Public Broadcasting Service. 

    Hamilton Holmes goes on to become the first African-American student to attend the Emory University School of Medicine, where he earns an M.D. in 1967, and later serves as a professor of orthopedics and associate dean.






    January 17


    President Eisenhower’s farewell address. Warns of the increasing power of a “military-industrial complex.”



    January 17

    REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Patrice Lumumba, who had led his nationalist party to victory in 1960 and was assessed by the CIA to be “another Castro,” is assassinated — though this won’t be known for weeks.










    JFK speaking

    January 20

    JFK’s inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you ...”

    Read annotations on the address 60 years later in our winter 2021 edition.










    January 21

    JFK asks Sargent Shriver to form a presidential task force “to report how the Peace Corps should be organized and then to organize it.” 

    Shriver taps Harris Wofford to coordinate plans.














    ANGOLA: Start of fighting to gain independence from Portuguese colonial rule. February 4 will come to be marked as liberation day.




    February 5

    State Department colleagues Bill Josephson and Warren Wiggins deliver a paper to Shriver they call “The Towering Task.”

    It lays out ideas for establishing a Peace Corps on a big, bold scale. Within three weeks, Shriver lands a report on JFK’s desk, saying with go-ahead, “We can be in business Monday morning.”














    The Beatles


    February 9

    Debut appearance by the Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool









    February 12

    USSR launches Venera 1 — first craft to fly past Venus.











    February 27

    Aretha Franklin releases first studio album: “Aretha with the Ray Bryant Combo.”











    March 1

    Executive Order 10924: JFK establishes the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis. 

    He says, “It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common cause of world development.”


















    March 4

    JFK announces Sargent Shriver will serve as first Director of the Peace Corps.












    March 6

    Executive order 10925: creates President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Government contractors must “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” First use of phrase “affirmative action” in executive order.





    March 14

    Bill Moyers, a 26-year-old legislative assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, takes on responsibilities as special consultant to the Peace Corps. The project, Moyers believes, shows “America as a social enterprise ... of caring and cooperative people.”











    March 18

    ALGERIA: Cease-fire takes effect in War of Independence from France.












    March 29

    23rd Amendment ratified. Allows residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections for the first time.



    April 11

    Trial of the century — of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution of the Jewish question” — begins in Jerusalem.



    April 12

    Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes first human being to travel into space. In Vostok I, he completes an orbit of the Earth.



    April 17

    CUBA: U.S.-backed invasion at Bay of Pigs attempts to overthrow Fidel Castro. Invading troops surrender in less than 24 hours after being pinned down and outnumbered.





    April 22

    Sargent Shriver embarks on a “Round the World” trip to pitch the Peace Corps to global leaders. With him: Harris Wofford, Franklin Williams, and Ed Bayley. 

    They visit Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.








    April 27

    SIERRA LEONE gains independence following over 150 years’ British colonial rule. Milton Margai serves as prime minister until his death in 1964.



    April 29

    World Wildlife Fund for Nature established in Europe. Focuses on environmental preservation and protection of endangered species worldwide.





    May 4

    Freedom Riders: Civil rights activist James Farmer organizes series of protests against segregation policies on interstate transportation in southern U.S. Buses carrying the Freedom Riders are firebombed, riders attacked by KKK and police, and riders arrested.

    Four hundred federal marshals are then sent out to enforce desegregation.










    May 5

    First U.S. astronaut flies into space: Alan Shepard Jr. on Freedom 7.







    May 11

    VIETNAM: JFK approves orders to send 400 special forces and 100 other military advisers to train groups to fight Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam.






    May 15

    First Peace Corps placement test administered







    May 21

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirms Shriver as Director of the Peace Corps.






    May 22

    Dear Peace Corps Volunteer: First Volunteers receive letters from President Kennedy inviting them to join the new Peace Corps.
















    May 25

    Space race: Addressing joint session of Congress, JFK says: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”







    May 25

    DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who has ruled since 1930, is assassinated following internal armed resistance against his oppressive regime.




    May 31

    SOUTH AFRICA: Following a white-only referendum, the government of the Union of South Africa leaves the British Commonwealth and becomes an independent republic.





    June 4

    JFK meets Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over two days in Vienna. “Worst thing in my life,” JFK tells a New York Times reporter. “He savaged me.”




    June 6

    ETHIOPIA: In the Karakore region, a magnitude 6.5 earth-quake strikes. Thirty people die.








    June 22

    Peace Corps has received “11,000 completed applications” in the first few months, Shriver tells Senate Foreign Relations Committee.



    June 25

    Training begins for Peace Corps Volunteers for Tanganyika I and Colombia I at universities and private agencies in New Jersey, Texas, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.





    Amnesty International founded in the United Kingdom to support human rights and promote global justice and freedom.



    August 3

    Arkansas Democrat Sen. William Fulbright, skeptical of Peace Corps’ effectiveness, is cited in The New York Times as calling for a budget one-fourth the amount requested.




    August 4

    Sargent Shriver testifies in the House of Representatives and faces hostile GOP questioning. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Fulbright-led Foreign Relations Committee votes 14–0 to authorize the Peace Corps with the full $40 million in funding requested.






    August 4

    Barack Obama born in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 2008 he becomes first African American president and 44th president of the United States.










    August 6

    Vostok 2: Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov becomes second human to orbit the Earth — and first in space for more than one day.



    August 10

    JFK press conference: “We have an opportunity if the amount requested by the Peace Corps is approved by Congress, of having 2,700 Volunteers serving the cause of peace in fiscal year 1962.” By the end of 1962, there will be 2,940 Volunteers serving.




    August 13

    Berlin Wall: In the middle of the night, East German soldiers begin stringing up some 30 miles ofbarbed wire and start enforcing the separation between East and West Berlin.









    August 17

    Charter for the Alliance for Progress signed in Uruguay, to bolster U.S. ties with Latin America. JFK compares it to the Marshall Plan, but the funding is nowhere near that scale.




    August 21

    KENYA: Anti-colonial activist Jomo Kenyatta released from prison after serving nearly nine years. In 1964 he becomes president of Kenya.














    August 25

    Senate passes the Peace Corps Act. 



    August 28

    Rose Garden send-off: President Kennedy hosts a ceremony for the first groups of Volunteers departing for service in Ghana and Tanganyika.







    August 30

    After a 23-hour charter Pan Am flight from Washington, 51 Volunteers land in Accra, Ghana, to begin their service as teachers.



    August 30

    In Atlanta, Georgia, nine Black children begin classes at four previously all-white high schools. The city’s public schools had been segregated for more than a century.



    September 1

    ERITREA: War of Independence begins with Battle of Adal, when Hamid Idris Awate and companions fire shots against the occupying Ethiopian army and police.



    September 4

    Foreign Assistance Act enacted, reorganizing U.S. programs to create the new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which officially comes into being in November.



    September 6

    Drawing a bright line, official policy declares Peace Corps will not be affiliated in any way with intelligence or espionage.



    September 8

    First group of 62 Volunteers arrive in Bogotá, Colombia, aboard a chartered Avianca flight. They are referred to as “los hijos de Kennedy”—Kennedy’s children.




    September 14

    House passes the Peace Corps Act 288–97. 



    September 18

    United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a plane crash en route to a peacekeeping mission in the Congo. He is posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.










    September 22

    House and Senate bills reconciled: JFK signs the Peace Corps Act into law. The mandate: “promote world peace and friendship.”





    September 30

    First group of 44 Volunteers arrive in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. They include surveyors, geologists, and civil engineers to work with local technicians to build roads.



    October 14

    Postcard from Nigeria: Volunteer Margery Michelmore sends a postcard to her boyfriend describing her first impressions of the city of Ibadan, calling conditions “primitive.” The card doesn’t make it stateside. Nigerian students mimeograph and distribute it widely on campus; it is front-page news in Nigeria and beyond. Michelmore cables Shriver that it would be best if she were removed from Nigeria. She is.




    October 18

    Jets vs. Sharks: Premiere of film adaptation of musical “West Side Story.” A hit at the box office, it will win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.





    October 30

    Doomsday Device: Soviet Union tests the Tsar Bomba, largest explosion ever created by humankind. Its destructive capabilities make it too catastrophic for wartime use. International condemnation ensues. U.S. has begun its own underground testing.






    November 9

    GHANA: U.K.’s Queen Elizabeth visits to meet with President Kwame Nkrumah.






    November 24

    World Food Programme is established as a temporary United Nations effort. The first major crisis it meets: Iran’s 1962 earthquake. In 2020 its work is recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize.







    November 28

    Postcard postscript: Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gives a warm welcome to the second group of Peace Corps Volunteers.



    December 6

    Ernie Davis of Syracuse University becomes the first Black player to win college football’s Heisman Trophy. Leukemia will tragically cut his life short 18 months later.




    December 9

    TANGANYIKA declares independence from the British Commonwealth. In 1964 country name becomes Tanzania.





    December 14

    Executive Order 10980: JFK establishes Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, to examine discrimination against women and how to eliminate it. Issues addressed include equal pay, jury service, business ownership, and access to education.










    December 31

    500+ Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanganyika, and Pakistan. An additional 200+ Americans are in training in the United States.