The genesis of the United States Peace Corps stems back to 1960 and then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s impromptu speech at the University of Michigan. Kennedy challenged students to support the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. By 1961, then-President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924 and officially established the Peace Corps.
Since then, more than 170,000 volunteers have worked in 136 host countries. According to the Corps’ Web site (www.peacecorps.gov), volunteers work and live in rural and urban communities in Asia, Central America, Europe and Africa. Volunteers work on everything from education, health and HIV/ AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture and the environment.
The men and women who join the Peace Corps are as diverse as the work that they do and the countries where they work. Volunteers come from a multitude of races, ethnic backgrounds, ages and religions. They have varying physical abilities and come from different geographical regions and diverse personal backgrounds.
Today, the Peace Corps is more important than ever: In May 2003, the Peace Corps committed 1,000 new volunteers to work on HIV/AIDS related activities, as part of President Bush’s Global AIDS Relief Package.
Volunteer Opportunities in Health
Health care opportunities abound in the Peace Corps for individuals looking for an exciting opportunity to truly make a profound impact in the lives of people all over the world. Peace Corps health volunteers make up 21% of the overall volunteers, and they help improve basic health care at the grass-roots level by focusing on prevention, human capacity building and education. Volunteers work on basic health care issues, such as combating malnutrition and providing safe drinking water.
Volunteering in health and HIV/AIDS allows volunteers to educate and promote the awareness of HIV/AIDS—one of the most serious worldwide threats to public health and development. According to the Peace Corps’ Web site, health care volunteers train youth as peer educators, collaborate with religious leaders to develop appropriate education strategies, provide support to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and develop programs that provide support to families and communities affected by the disease.
Volunteers in Health Extension raise awareness in communities about the need for health education. Activities include identifying local leaders to teach families about maternal and child health, basic nutrition, or sanitation; setting up training on nutrition, sanitation, or oral rehydration therapy; organizing groups to raise money for needed health care materials; and training of trainers for peer education about AIDS and other STDs.
Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and an interest in community health demonstrated through volunteer or work experience, or be a registered nurse with a demonstrated interest in community health. Counseling or teaching can also qualify as experience for this program.
Public Health Education
Volunteers in Public Health Education teach public health in classrooms and model methodologies and subjects for primary and secondary school teachers. Projects include undertaking “knowledge, attitude and practice” surveys in communities; assisting clinics or government planning offices in identifying health education needs; devising educational programs to address local health conditions; assisting in marketing of messages aimed at improving local health practices; carrying out epidemiological studies; and acting as backup professionals for other health volunteers.
Public Health Education applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in health education, nutrition, dietetics, or another health-related discipline. Applicants can also have a master’s degree in public health or be a registered nurse certified in public health, midwifery, or be a certified physician’s assistants. Most applicants have also been active in health-related activities on a volunteer basis. Other relevant experience includes expertise in disease surveillance, creative training and adult education techniques, and community entry and survey methods.
Master’s International and Fellows/USA
The Peace Corps offers two advanced education programs to Peace Corps volunteers: Master’s International and Fellows/USA. The Master’s International program allows volunteers to incorporate Peace Corps service into their master’s degree programs at more than 40 colleges and universities. The Fellows/USA program offers former volunteers scholarships or reduced tuition in advanced degree programs at more than 30 participating colleges and universities.
In return for these educational benefits, Fellows commit to working in an underserved community as they pursue their graduate degree. Additionally, Peace Corps volunteers may apply for partial deferment of many loans and up to 15 % cancellation of Perkins loans.
Serving in the Peace Corps gives volunteers the chance to learn a new language, live in another culture, and develop career and leadership skills. Among financial benefits, the Peace Corps offers a monthly living allowance, comprehensive medical and dental coverage, $6,075 after the completion of three months of training and two years of volunteer service, a reasonably priced health insurance plan available after the completion of volunteer service for up to 18 months, and 24 vacation days per year.
The Peace Corps’ Office of Returned Volunteer Services (RVS) provides career, educational and re-entry related assistance through its 11 regional recruiting offices and its Career Center in Washington, D.C.
Former volunteers also have non-competitive eligibility status for appointments to U.S. government executive branch agencies for one year after their completion of service. This means that former volunteers can be appointed to some federal government positions without competing with the general public.
For more in-depth information on the Peace Corps’ volunteer opportunities, log onto www.peacecorps.gov, where you can request a brochure and an application, fill out an online application, find a recruiting agent or a regional recruiting office, and much more.
Peace Corps Stats
Peace Corps officially established: March 1, 1961
Total number of volunteers and trainees to date: 170,000
Total number of countries served: 136
Current number of volunteers and trainees: 6,678
32% in education
21% in health
18% in environment
14% in business
9% in agriculture
Gender: 61% female, 39% male
Marital status: 91% single, 9% married
People of color: 15% of Peace Corps volunteers
Age: 28 years old (average), 25 years old (median)
Volunteers over age 50: 6% (oldest volunteer is 84)
Education: 86% have undergraduate degrees, 12% have graduate studies/degrees