Volunteerism is a vital part of any community. President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address, stressed the need to bring American volunteers to foreign countries. One of the best ways to do this is through the Peace Corps. Bush”s proposal to double the number of volunteers the Peace Corps sends abroad as well as to nearly double its funding to $475 million over the next five years will be a positive step in improving the United States” image abroad. Bush must be sure to make good on his promise.
President John F. Kennedy first proposed the Peace Corps in a speech given on the steps of the Michigan Union on Oct. 14, 1960. Recently, the number of Peace Corps volunteers has stagnated and at present only 7,000 volunteers go abroad every year. The revitalization of the Peace Corps into a strong, well-funded organization will help promote worldwide understanding and acceptance.
Peace Corps volunteers live and participate in both urban and rural communities and assist in improving the living conditions of local residents. They focus on education, health, agriculture and the environment. Volunteers should be charged with spreading values of freedom and equality without attempting political indoctrination.
While the U.S. government funds the Peace Corps, “We were representatives of the American people, not of the American government,” said Rep. Tom Petri, (R-Wis), who worked as as a lawyer for the Peace Corps in Somalia.
Although Bush”s promise of increased financial and human resources is heartening, it is important that the U.S. government does not take advantage of the Peace Corp”s mission or volunteers to gather intelligence on the countries in which the Peace Corps operates. During the “70s, the Peace Corps reputation became soiled when the public discovered that the organization had been used as a front for gathering information for U.S. government operations in Latin America. In such a sensitive international climate, it is important that the Bush administration keep the few organizations whose missions are completely founded on goodwill and altruism clean of political maneuvering.
After Sept. 11, Americans have experienced the overdue realization that the United States is not as universally loved as we had once thought. U.S. led endeavors on foreign soils are often viewed as nation building that is done only in the United States” political and business interests all too often this criticism has not been far off the mark. However, programs like the Peace Corps can operate positively even in spite of unfortunate political realities.
Just as sending volunteers abroad improves understanding and builds friendships with those overseas, it also helps those American volunteers better understand the rest of the world.