Peace Corps turns 50 in March

The Peace Corps, a government agency started by President John F. Kennedy that works to aid and help developing nations around the world, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in March.
A number of events will also be held over the course of the inaugural “Peace Corps Month.”
In its half-century long history the agency has sent more than 200,000 American citizens to 139 countries to achieve its stated mission “to promote peace and friendship” through helping nations meet their need for trained men and women and promoting a better understanding between Americans and the people they serve.
“It’s a great time to make sure people are aware of what the Peace Corps is still doing,” Jennifer McFann, a Peace Corps volunteer from Astoria, said when asked about the 50th anniversary. “We can also look back and look at the different countries the Peace Corps has helped.”
The agency assists foreign nations in various ways including education, the environment, small business development, agriculture, health and combating HIV/AIDS. The Peace Corps also assisted in relief efforts for victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
McFann served in Georgia from 2006 to 2008, teaching English to fifth to 11th grade classes with her Georgian counterpart. As an MLA student in international relations, the Peace Corps allowed her to act as a U.S. ambassador for two years.
Today 8,655 volunteers work in 77 countries, including China, Mexico, Ethiopia and Romania. The agency also continues to operate in Ghana, the first nation to receive help from the Peace Corps.
New York City currently has 369 of its residents serving overseas, making it the primary metropolitan producer of volunteers for 2010.
Grant Tse, a volunteer from Elmhurst, served in the Philippines from 2007 to 2009. He officially taught English to junior and senior high school students in the small rural town of Casiguran, but he also taught physics and chemistry.
“I guess I just felt like I owed some karma,” Grant said, when asked why he joined the Peace Corps. Grant was born in the U.S., but his parents emigrated from China during the Cultural Revolution, and grew up in conditions similar to many communities that the Peace Corps serves.
“Had I been born in China I could easily have been illiterate and making sneakers for most of my life, but I was born here and have had opportunities many people don’t dare dream of.”
Overall, New York State provided 445 volunteers last year, ranking it second to California among Peace Corps volunteer-producing states. Historically, the state has produced 12,392 Peace Corps volunteers – 6.2 percent of the total number of Peace Corps volunteers.
“New York has always been a strong proponent of volunteering and service to others,” said New York Regional Manager Vinny Wickes.
In total, 13,500 Americans applied to join the Peace Corps in 2010.
The agency was established through an executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. In its inaugural year its 750 members served in Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, Chile, the Philippines and St. Lucia.
The agency’s membership grew rapidly and reached its peak of over 15,000 active volunteers in 1966.
The Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old.

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