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Scenic images from the field

A home far, far from home

The Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado

I asked every Peace Corps volunteer (“PCV”) I met in Mongolia whether they had chosen Mongolia: if the country had been their first choice.

Universally, the volunteers conceded that they had dreamed of being assigned to towns in sunny South America or developed Eastern Europe. No one chose Mongolia, and yet with breathtaking tenacity, the volunteers have made the most of a difficult posting and achieved a level of integration I could never have imagined in this country.

The Peace Corps is a U.S. government-initiated international development program. Started by President John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, the Peace Corps is a volunteer organization where the participants live for two years in a developing country. Volunteers of all ages live without a significant support structure, survive on local salaries, work in local schools and hospitals and learn local languages. (Presidential candidate Richard Nixon opposed the creation of the Peace Corps fearing it would become “a haven for draft dodgers.”)

Kennedy thought that small-scale development initiatives could help repair the United States’ image abroad. He imagined an energetic group of philanthropic Americans as a powerful Cold War “soft power” tool to combat the burgeoning feelings of anti-American sentiment created from the conflict in Vietnam.

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