Courtesy Reuters

The Peace Corps: Making it in the Seventies

Ten years ago this fall John Kennedy first spoke about sending Americans overseas in voluntary service. By the following summer the idea had a name- the Peace Corps-several hundred Volunteers were in training, and even as Congress debated the program it became clear that the idea was catching on. The Silent Generation was ready to be heard from and young Americans were flooding the Corps' makeshift headquarters with thousands of applications. The public saw in it an opportunity to "show what Americans are really like" and redeem the image portrayed in Eugene Burdick's best-seller, "The Ugly American." Surveys revealed thousands of jobs to be done abroad. It seemed obvious that the most modern nation in the world could provide the needed manpower. Despite misgivings, Congress baptized the experiment by overwhelming votes.

The original plan proposed to the President by Sargent Shriver envisioned a role for Americans of all ages, skills and backgrounds and Kennedy responded by calling for all kinds of Americans to volunteer. It was, however, almost exclusively the young who answered the call. They were ready, willing and available in such numbers that it became an immense task to find enough assignments for them abroad.

But the times were propitious abroad as well as at home. In Africa the beginning of the Peace Corps coincided with the first few years of freedom from colonial rule. Many new governments, uncertain of their needs, signed up for anyone who could help. The Peace Corps was invited to send hundreds of teachers for rural schools as young governments expanded an élite colonial school system, trying to reach more of their citizens and educate its own civil service. At one time the Peace Corps provided half of all the secondary school teachers in Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

The Peace Corps was Point Ten of the Alliance for Progress and thus part of President Kennedy's assistance package for Latin America. Living there at the time, I recall the early sixties as an era of

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