Peace Corps Presents Awards to Members of Congress

March 3, 2006

This article by Jim Fisher-Thompson and John Cox was written for the Department of State's Washington File

Washington, D.C., March 1, 2006 - At a time when some perceive a widening rift between the West's emphasis on modernity and developing nations' desire to maintain traditional values, the Peace Corps, for more than 45 years, has been in the forefront of helping people struggle out of poverty while mirroring traditional American values of democracy and fair play.

Far from being quaint beliefs, those are the same traditions that motivated the thousands of Americans who answered the call first made by President John F. Kennedy when he established the volunteer agency in 1961.


Past and Present: Director Vasquez and Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director
At that time the youthful president he was only 44 challenged young Americans to impart some of the blessings of freedom they enjoyed as citizens of the most prosperous nation in the world to less fortunate people beyond American shores. And they responded overwhelmingly.

Since its founding, more than 185,000 Americans have answered the call and devoted two years to living and working in communities as teachers, health care workers, and agricultural and small business advisers in places like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Kenya, the Philippines, China, Turkey and Poland.

Former volunteers include five current members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one senator, all of whom were honored by Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez, who presented them with Peace Corps public service awards during a ceremony in Washington March 1.

The recipients were: Senator Christopher Dodd (Democrat of Connecticut), Dominican Republic, who served in the Peace Corps from 1966 to 1968; Representative Sam Farr (Democrat of California), Colombia, 1964-1966; Representative Michael Honda (Democrat of California), El Salvador, 1965-1967; Representative Thomas Petri (Republican of Wisconsin), Somalia, 1966-1967; Representative Christopher Shays (Republican of Connecticut), Fiji, 1968-1970; and Representative James Walsh (Republican of New York), Nepal, 1970-1972.

Two other lawmakers received public service awards for their long-term support of the Peace Corps: House Committee on International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde (Republican of Illinois) and Subcommittee on Foreign Operations Chairman Jim Kolbe (Republican of Arizona).

Representatives from 35 of the 75 nations in which Peace Corps volunteers currently work attended the ceremony.

PEACE CORPS "MORE VITAL THAN EVER"

In presenting the awards, Vasquez said: "Todays Peace Corps is more vital than ever before. The Peace Corps is truly an agency that makes a lasting impression. After the experience of being a Peace Corps volunteer, countless individuals remain in public service, giving back to their country."

In part, because of the support of former alumni in Congress and government, Vasquez said the Peace Corps is "at a 30-year high" with the number of volunteers in the field 7,810 at the end of fiscal year 2005.

Twenty-four percent of those volunteers are working in predominantly Muslim countries, he told his audience.

Vasquez said the "Volunteers are building bonds of friendship and finding common ways to address global challenges, such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

Crisis Corps Volunteers, consisting of many returned PCVs, were also deployed in 2005 to Sri Lanka and Thailand to assist with rebuilding tsunami devastated areas, the director said.

Representative Farr, an award recipient, marked the anniversary stating, "When I was still a college student, I distinctly remembering hearing President Kennedy's call to service: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' Moved by the president's enthusiasm, I responded by joi you, but what you can do for your country.' Moved by the president's enthusiasm, I responded by joining" and was assigned to Colombia.

There, he said, "I focused on community development in a poor barrio in Medellin, working to organize my barrio and trying to help Colombians help themselves. I believe I made a positive impact on the lives of my Colombian co-workers, neighbors and friends, and I know the experience was key to the rest of my career in public service."

Vasquez concluded the Capitol Hill ceremony by reading a letter of congratulations from President Bush.

"The true strength of America lies in the hearts and souls of our citizens," Bush said in the letter.

"For more than four decades, the men and women of the Peace Corps have demonstrated the compassion of our country by reaching out to those in need and spreading hope. Your work helps foster a culture of responsibility and citizenship and advances international understanding and good will.

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