March 1 marks the 45th anniversary of the Peace Corps. And as a recently returning Peace Corps volunteer, I believe we need more organizations like this one.
Six months ago, I was boarding a plane in Turkmenistan, heading home to the United States. I had finished two years of work as a Peace Corps volunteer in a tiny village in an unknown corner of the world. I remembered the tear-streaked faces of my local friends, the little library we had built and filled with Shel Silverstein and Judy Blume and the essays my students had written about Rosa Parks and global warming.
In the years since its creation in 1961, Peace Corps volunteers have lived all over the world, upholding the three goals of the organization: To teach other countries about America and its customs, to teach Americans about other countries and their customs and to assist in developing infrastructure in countries that request it.
Often with few resources and just a few weeks of training in local languages and culture, Peace Corps volunteers have taught English, established nurseries and fisheries, supported local groups and, most importantly, built lasting relationships with host country nationals.
Volunteers continue this important work today and are establishing peace and friendship in more than 70 countries.
President Kennedy created the United States Peace Corps -- the first organization of its kind -- after he addressed a group of students at the University of Michigan. The students pleaded for an opportunity to serve their country peacefully and to give back to the global community. Kennedy was moved by their determination and hope.
Many of us head off to our countries, determined to help people and to transmit our knowledge to those less fortunate. What inevitably results is the humbling realization that we don't have all the answers, and that paying attention to what our hosts tell us about their needs, culture and ideas is the real key to building cooperative relationships. We learn as much from them as they do from us.
Global opinion of the United States is at an all-time low, thanks to the Bush administration's unilateralist approach to U.S. foreign policy. Europe is unsupportive, the Middle East is destabilized and quagmires engulf Iraq and Afghanistan. Most nations of the world do not see us as a force for peace, and it is because we do not give them the chance to.
Fortunately, when people abroad see Peace Corps volunteers helping to rebuild their communities and their infrastructure, it creates goodwill between countries and their people.
Peace Corps volunteers are far less threatening than uniformed Americans with guns.
The United States should increase the size and funding of the Peace Corps. Instead of shipping out more troops around the world, we should send more Peace Corps volunteers. They may be the best antidote to terrorism and hatred.
Sari Long is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan and an executive board member of the Turkmenistan Youth and Civic Values Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.