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Good news: Peace Corps alive and well

I am in Santo Domingo for the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps by JFK in 1962. And I have good news for you – stop worrying, the Peace Corps is alive and well, thank you.

I admit I had some doubts as I was flying from Honolulu top the Dominican Republic last week. Were my two years in the Peace Corps between 1965 and 1967 a good use of my youth? Did I make any difference? Are the deals of the Peace Corps that I so admired relevant today? And are there any people of spirit (young or old) willing to spend there time in the Peace Corps in modern times?

Well after three days of laughing and crying with my old PCV friends and two days listening to both the current volunteers and Dominican citizens who were affected by us Peace Corps volunteers over the years, I have news for you: stop worrying.

Yesterday we spent the entire day meeting current volunteers who are working in country. They continue to do many of the same things that we did (work with youth groups, promote agriculture, encourage conservation of natural resources, promote small community based tourism) but they also do many things we never could do. For example they are promoting a television soap opera that will get teenagers involved in analyzing life’s problems in areas of sex, friendship, family relations, etc. Once they are finished with their ten-part television series and the teaching manual that accompanies the program they will be able to reach thousands of young persons who will be encouraged to make positive life choices in a complex world.

And in case anyone thinks “Kennedy’s Kids” — as we were initially called — are a waste of taxpayer dollars, they should have been in the room this morning as we listened to the voices of Dominican citizens.

These leaders in the Dominican community now direct health care, agriculture, environmental programs, etc. Each one of them spoke from their heart as they confirmed that they were personally influenced by Peace Corps volunteers who provided them with positive growth examples with which to form their careers and in each case greatly supersede their wildest dreams for a better future.

As one Dominican leader said this morning, “We saw these young Americans move into our rural villages and share our rural hardships without ever complaining. We saw these Americans (daily) demonstrate persistence, hard work and confidence in our ability to improve ourselves.” As he then stated with those images before us Dominicans had no choice but to follow their example and help ourselves.

The session ended with a long list of the tangible and intangible accomplishments that these Dominican citizen leaders felt the peace Corps volunteers had made toward the development of their country. Imagine that — great accomplishments in all phases of the development of the Dominican Republic without the expenditure of one single bullet.

Yes, the Peace Corps is alive and thriving in the hills, mountains and urban areas of the Dominican Republic this very day. Stop worrying.

PS. More news next week as I return to the village where I worked over 46 years ago. Prediction: I will be sore from the hugs I receive from my long-ago friends and tired from laughing and crying over the memories that we shared in those days.