Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan Defines Agency's Global Legacy
November 9, 1998Los Angeles, November 9, 1998—Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan was the guest speaker at a luncheon today hosted by the World Affairs Council in downtown Los Angeles.
On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Gearan compared how the Peace Corps started with where it is today.
"John F. Kennedy wanted to change how the people of developing countries thought about America and the American people," Gearan said of Kennedy's idea to establish a "peace corps" in his speech at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on November 2, 1960. "He had a plan to involve ourselves more actively and passionately in the cause of peace, freedom, and democracy in the world. He envisioned the United States sending talented, compassionate, and energetic men and women from every background to far corners of the globe, to teach people of different races and cultures about us as we learned about them."
Today, Peace Corps volunteers have fulfilled President Kennedy's vision of working for two or more years in thousands of towns and villages in the developing world, Gearan said. "Volunteers are often the first Americans that many people have ever seen or met, especially in the new republics that were part of the Soviet Union in Kennedy's time. Volunteers are learning more than 170 languages and dialects. They have become acquainted with the local customs. They have worked side-by-side with host country nationals to solve problems. In so doing, they have made important and lasting contributions to world development and world peace."
Gearan also talked about new developments within the Peace Corps, such as the Crisis Corps, which he established in 1996. Experienced Peace Corps volunteers answer the call to become Crisis Corps volunteers, where they work on disaster relief and humanitarian missions around the world. Crisis Corps volunteers will soon be working in Central America to help overcome the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch last week. Gearan also spoke about the Peace Corps' future. With the end of the Cold War, Gearan said, Peace Corps volunteers can play an even greater role in building the bridges of understanding between peoples and nations.
Currently, about 6,500 Peace Corps volunteers are working in 80 countries in education, the environment, health and nutrition, business advising, and community development. Since 1961, more than 150,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps.