Program celebrates 50 years of service with 8,655 volunteers serving in 77 countries
By Andy Yang
For the past 50 years since its inauguration by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent accepted volunteers overseas for two years to work with local communities in host countries. Volunteers are sent worldwide to developing nations, providing aid in areas from agricultural work to education. This is done all in order to fulfill its three primary goals: helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Senior Kayla Smock is one person who has been inspired to join the Peace Corps after attending college.
“I always felt that like since I’m going to be working in the health services industry, I should work outside of the United States because healthcare is fairly strong here, but third-world countries need people like me going into the nursing program more than the United States does,” Smock said.
The Peace Corps has deployed volunteers to around 139 countries to date, the most focused areas being Africa and Latin America with 34 and 24 percent of volunteers sent there respectively.
“I’d really like to go to South Africa. I just really find their culture to be really interesting. While it’s a very developed nation, it still has a lot of problems with race and there are just so many communities that aren’t as developed as others,” Smock said. “I would be in healthcare, so really I’d be providing different services for communities around there, giving vaccines and teaching them about water use and just basic healthcare.”
Indiana currently has approximately 149 residents that are serving abroad, but overall more than 2,988 residents have been a part of the organization. The application process can take better part of a year with multiple steps to being qualified, starting with filling out a form and acquiring the appropriate references, according Michael Thomas, former Peace Corps volunteer and physics teacher.
“If you make it through the first cut, you would actually get a phone or a face-to-face interview in which they’d explain to you some of the job classifications they have as far as what you might like to do and possible ways you could go,” Thomas said. “It’s kind of a grounding process. It doesn’t happen in a couple weeks or months. It could take (almost) a year to have everything go through.”
For Thomas, the impact was dramatic. Not only did it give him a new perspective, but it also gave him a new direction in life to follow. Despite initially working as an engineer, following his years helping out in Namibia, Thomas made a huge career change to education.
“I was looking for change as far as my job was concerned. I couldn’t see myself staying on that job, or really any job, for 15, 20 or 30 years, so I just needed a change,” Thomas said. “The Peace Corps is really where I first learned teaching. It’s impacted my life to the extent that it’s given me an absolutely new career path, but it also gave me a broader global view of how most of the world lives and how different cultures have different values and also how certain values are the same in different cultures.”
Thomas said the greatest impact from going abroad has been his changed perspective. As a result, Thomas presents a slide show to his classes from his time volunteering in order to share his experience and thus fulfill the Peace Corps’ third goal.
“You are never the same person (when you come back). I would listen to the news, and I listen to them differently than people who have not traveled or been outside this country. I want to stress that its different, not better or worse, just different,” Thomas said. “Your filters and processing of information are byproducts of your experiences. That’s why I want to bring the experience home, so even though you might not go join the Peace Corps, you can touch a little bit of my experience and start to look at things around you just a little bit differently because we’ve had this conversation.”
Smock said after going abroad, she hopes to come back and obtain her practitioner degree for nursing, eventually ending up at a public hospital in a large city. Smock said her parents are in full support of her decision, feeling that joining the Peace Corps will make her the person she hopes to be in the future.
“I’m really excited,” Smock said. “I’ve always wanted to help people, and I’m just ready for college, to get out there and help the world, and just do my thing.”