Remarks by Peace Corps Director Mark L. Schneider at Yale University
April 12, 2000Remarks by the Honorable Mark L. Schneider Director of the Peace Corps Yale University April 12, 2000
It is a special honor and privilege for me to be in New Haven to speak with students at one of our country's finest academic institutions—east of Berkeley. I want to thank Bryan Garcia for his kind words of introduction. Bryan represents the finest traditions of the Peace Corps—a Volunteer who did not leave his commitment to service behind when he left Kazakhstan. Today, Bryan is still making a difference in the lives of people, especially youth, here at home even as he works on two Master's degrees, one in environmental science at Yale and one in public administration at New York University. Anyone who can serve in the Peace Corps and then do that certainly deserves our respect and admiration.
It is a pleasure to be here in the state of Connecticut, the home of two of the Peace Corps' best friends and two of our nation's finest public servants, Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Christopher Shays. Both Senator Dodd and Congressman Shays served in the Peace Corps, and we are very proud of their continuing support for the work of our Volunteers.
I also want to thank the members of the administration and faculty, especially Peter Otis of the Yale Office of Career Development for his generous hospitality. They have been wonderful friends of the Peace Corps over the years and I thank them for their support.
I owe a particular debt to Yale University for my current position as Director of the Peace Corps. One of your distinguished alumni, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom I had the privilege of working on microenterprise, maternal mortality, and immunization initiatives, recommended me for this job. Mrs. Clinton recommended me to another Yale alumnus, her husband, President Bill Clinton, who appointed me to this position.
I am pleased to be speaking at Yale today because this university has a proud tradition of community and public service and perhaps nowhere is that better reflected than at Dwight Hall, home of the Center for Public Service and Social Justice, a place where, for more than a century, so many ideas for strengthening New Haven have been generated.
I know that many of you are actively involved in surrounding neighborhoods improving urban life in this city. In many respects, Yale sets the standard for student community service. So I congratulate the Center and all of you for the work you do in forging a partnership between campus and community.
Yale University has another partnership that also deserves accolades, its partnership with the Peace Corps. Over the past 39 years, 1016 Yale graduates have taken on the challenges—and enjoyed the benefits—that come with serving in the Peace Corps. There are some returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the audience, and I want to thank each of them for their service.
We take particular pride in pointing out that one of our country's most distinguished public servants, Professor of Law Drew Days, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.
Two of my predecessors as Director of the Peace Corps also are Yale alumni. Sargent Shriver, the founding father of the Peace Corps and the first director, went to law school here. He also directed the War Against Poverty and later served as our Ambassador to France. At age 84, by the way, Mr. Shriver went to Bosnia less than a month ago, with his wife Eunice, to organize the Special Olympics there.
Richard Celeste, now our Ambassador to India, who was Director of the Peace Corps under President Carter, also is a graduate of Yale.
Today, there are 26 Yalies serving in 26 countries around the world as Peace Corps Volunteers. Let me say to all of you, especially the seniors who are here, that there is still time for you to become part of this proud partnership. In fact, you can submit your application on-linhrough our Web site www.peacecorps.gov. And if you interview with one of our recruiters who are on hrough our Web site www.peacecorps.gov. And if you interview with one of our recruiters who are on campus today, or by April 28, you can be headed for parts unknown this summer to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
As I have said, the partnership between the Peace Corps and Yale is long, broad, and deep. Part of my job today is to strengthen it by informing you all a little more about what the Peace Corps is doing, about its embodiment of the ideal of service and about the importance of that concept in the 21st century.
This is an exciting time to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Today, there are nearly 7,000 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in 77 countries. We have Peace Corps Volunteers throughout Central America, Central Europe, and Central Asia. There are Volunteers living and working in South America, South Asia, and the South Pacific. We have Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the poorest towns of Bolivia, Benin, and Bangladesh as well as rural villages of South Africa, Slovakia and the Solomon Islands.
Everywhere they serve they have a common purpose and common goals. President John F. Kennedy explained that purpose as contributing to world peace and international understanding. The goals were three-fold. First, to improve the lives of people in developing countries, particularly among the poorest communities. The second goal was to convey an understanding of the people of the United States, our values and our ideals, through the friendships and relationships that develop by living and working side by side with the people of other lands. The third goal was the flip side of the cross-cultural coin—Peace Corps Volunteers would convey here in the United States a personal knowledge of other peoples, other cultures, and other realities when they return.
These goals are still as valid today, perhaps even more so given the impact of globalization, as they were in l961. But Volunteers often pursue very different paths to achieve them.
The best part of my job is the opportunity to visit Peace Corps Volunteers at their sites, and believe me, it is an inspiration to see the enormous difference they are making in the lives of other people. In virtually every instance, they are making their contributions at the grass-roots level, where the needs are often the greatest, where access to help is virtually always the most meager, and yet where the potential for progress is often the most promising.
At the same time, Volunteers are learning new languages and cross-cultural skills and developing their leadership muscles in ways that will make them stand apart when they follow their post-Peace Corps careers. Peace Corps Volunteers develop analytical skills, the ability to solve complex problems, and communication capabilities that are vital in today's competitive economic environment. Volunteers develop their skills as part of their engagement in the distant communities that are still impacted by the global economy and global information network. That network is expanding at warp speed. As President Clinton once noted, when he took office in l993, there were barely fifty active Web pages. Today there are 50 million.
Peace Corps Volunteers are serving as teachers in classrooms. I met three of them at schools in a region in Bulgaria about four hours from the capital. One was a recent Montana journalism graduate teaching English at an elementary school. Another held an M.A. in economics and is teaching business in a high school and advising local entrepreneurs. And one was a retired schoolteacher from Maine who is teaching English at a Bulgarian high school.
In a very different setting in Ghana, I also saw Alan Sai Li from the State of Washington who thought he was going to teach math at a high school in the capital city of Accra. The school director, however, asked Alan if knew what could be done with 15 computers that had arrivedbut seemed not to work. Alan suddenly became the director of the school's computer literacy programbut seemed not to work. Alan suddenly became the director of the school's computer literacy program. For a year, he was the only teacher who taught computer operations to 1,500 students and their teachers.
In the West African nation of Guinea, I learned how Volunteers are working to improve education for young girls. These Volunteers also organized regional conferences for the third year where hundreds of girls came together to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention and other health issues, to explore the role of women in development, and to share ideas with one another.
Peace Corps Volunteers are helping their communities protect their environment, sometimes working with a variety of partners. Jeremy West, a forester from North Carolina, is helping an organization turn the former Communist Party headquarters in Etrepole, Bulgaria, into an ecology resource center. I met one Volunteer, Brendan Doherty from Cheshire, Connecticut, who, along with his Honduran counterpart, is being trained in disaster mitigation and response in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. Another Volunteer I met, Mark Donahue from San Antonio, has helped an environmental NGO in Ghana forge an alliance with local tribal chiefs and government agencies to protect the last remaining hippopotamus habitat in the country.
They also help farmers learn about and benefit from sustainable agricultural practices, they help women obtain small loans from village banks to start their own businesses and then to sell their wares through cooperatives, and they assist local health care workers in their efforts to promote health and nutrition. In addition, our Volunteers are working in Africa and around the world to support the campaign to eradicate polio from this planet.
In all of these projects, more and more Peace Corps Volunteers are working with non-governmental organizations that can help communities solve local problems through local action.
Yet even as the Peace Corps' mission has remained essentially the same since it was established—to help the people of developing countries help themselves—Volunteers are responding to the contemporary needs, challenges and aspirations of the people with whom they live and work.
One of those challenges that I saw with horrendous clarity on my trip to Africa last month is the threat of HIV/AIDS. Of the more than 33 million cases of HIV/AIDS worldwide, more than 23 million are found in Africa. There already are 8 million orphans from AIDS. Peace Corps has begun to respond. Perhaps a quarter of the Volunteers in Africa are working in health programs that specifically target HIV/AIDS prevention. In the near future, I intend to announce a new initiative that will dramatically expand the role that our Volunteers play in the fight against AIDS. I view it as the most serious humanitarian challenge in the world today and the greatest threat to economic development, political stability, and the very fabric of society in Africa.
We also are finding ways to help Peace Corps Volunteers bring the extraordinary skills they possess in information technology to the struggle against poverty in the communities where they live and work. Throughout history, the poor have been the last to benefit from advances in technology. In the developing world today, the vast majority of people have never used a telephone, much less surfed the Web.
But you in this room today can build bridges across that divide. For most of the countries and impoverished communities of the developing, you are experts in using computers, the Internet, and every other form of information technology. That is why we are expanding the role that technology plays in the work of our Volunteers. Volunteers are helping schools, municipal governments, NGOs, and businesses obtain computers and get connected to the Internet. They and their counterparts are creating new Web sites to market products and communicate with customers.
Today, a Peace Corps Volunteer with a single comto market products and communicate with customers.
Today, a Peace Corps Volunteer with a single computer can bring the wealth of knowledge in the Library of Congress to a poor classroom in the middle of Africa. A few months ago, one enterprising Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya powered his laptop with abandoned solar panels to connect to the Internet and draw information to prepare his lesson plans for his students. We want to make it possible for you and others to bring your skills in technology to the crucial task of reducing poverty in the developing world. But it must be sustainable. It must be part of a project owned by the local community. And it must be a tool that does not separate the Volunteer from the community but offers the community a window to the world's bounty of knowledge.
These are just some of the tangible contributions that Peace Corps Volunteers are making around the world. An equally important part of the Peace Corps experience is intangible: it is the spirit of service that our Volunteers embody. It was what motivated my wife, Susan, and me to join the Peace Corps. And it is that same spirit that continues to motivate thousands of people today to take part in the great adventure that is the Peace Corps. When President Kennedy established the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, l961, he said, "We have, in this country, an immense reservoir of É men and women—anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress."
For nearly 40 years, graduates of Yale and Berkeley and Wisconsin, of Harvard and Brown and Amherst, and of the University of Texas, the University of Oregon and the University of Colorado have proved him right. Today, the Peace Corps continues to be an organization filled with people who believe in the value of service, who hold to a set of ideals and are willing to act on them. Across the globe, they are helping to strengthen the ties of friendship and understanding between the people of our country and the people of other countries.
There are those who say that our country is no longer interested in those ideals. They charge that young people don't have time for volunteering or for idealism because they are too busy preparing for their next IPO.
Well, I say the cynics are wrong. They need only look to organizations like the Peace Corps and universities like Yale to find that the commitment to service, especially among young people, is alive and well in our country. In fact, according to a recent poll that I saw, more than 70 percent of college students said they had done volunteer work, from helping the homeless to teaching kids, from religious service to protecting the environment, to health care. A sense of commitment, a belief in fairness and justice, and a sense of idealism are as important now as they have been at any time in our history.
A few moments ago, I mentioned that the first Director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, attended the Yale Law School. Listen to what he said nearly four decades ago:
"It is a complex world we live in today. While one man orbits the earth in a space capsule, another man squats for hours beside an Asian rice paddy, trying to catch a fish only as big as your thumb. While some men manufacture computers, other men plow with sticks."
Much of what he said remains true today. Today, we explore the outer reaches of the universe, and our computers grow faster with each passing month. We bask in the glow of unparalleled prosperity, and our power as a nation is unrivaled.
Yet as we sit today in Dwight Hall, there are people still plowing with sticks in many parts of the world. There are people who are trying to catch a fish as big as your thumb. Even here in this country, we have children who cannot read and pockets of poverty that stir our consciences. This reality should giveus all pause to think about what we, as individuals, can do to help them solve some of these pr giveus all pause to think about what we, as individuals, can do to help them solve some of these problems. I have seen what Peace Corps Volunteers are doing, and I know that many students at Yale are rising to the challenge by giving your time and energy to causes that move you.
So as you think about what you will do after you graduate, I encourage you to think about following in the footsteps of more than 1,000 other Yale alumni who signed up for what we call "the toughest job you'll ever love." I cannot think of a moment when you can contribute more to America's future and your own.
Thank you very much.