This week of Feb. 24-March 2 is devoted to celebrating what the Peace Corps has accomplished for more than 50 years.
Peace Corps was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, and when the 50th anniversary was celebrated in 2011, my wife and I were at the American Embassy in Mexico City, in our last of almost four years of service with the Peace Corps Mexico program, taking part in the anniversary celebration.
A half a century before, JFK challenged the nation in his inaugural address with this famous line, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." The Peace Corps was created a few months later with the mission of promoting world peace and friendship.
In today's world with strife emerging in numerous developing countries, there probably has never been a time when the Peace Corps could be more significant.
In a time when the U.S. is constantly struggling to maintain an image where violence doesn't define our lifestyle, both internally and externally, the Peace Corps lies in direct contrast to that image.
Through the three Peace Corps goals, which are to provide project assistance to interested countries, promote an understanding of the United States to that country and an understanding of that country to people of the United States, from personal experience, I can say that it does, in fact, accomplish those goals.
Despite media biases, we have not become a nation of selfish people who look only inward rather than outward for personal gratification and happiness. The reality is that volunteering and volunteer organizations, including the Peace Corps, have never been stronger. The United States ranks near the top in volunteerism, and Idaho ranks second only to Utah in per capita hours donated.
As for that happiness that we all seek, I don't think I have ever been happier than I was during my service in the Peace Corps. Countless experiences in Mexico humbled me to tears. Similar tales could be told by hundreds of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Peace Corps service is not easy and for most volunteers, it is, as their website states, "the toughest job you'll ever love."
My wife's and my project work was related to Mexico's need for trained environmental specialists which took us to a number of poor, rural communities and dealt with the conservation and sustainability of Mexico's plundered natural resources.
Despite the challenges, the people of these communities burrowed deep into our hearts and took up permanent residence. They gave us so much more than we could ever have given them. It is these personal relationships gained in the Peace Corps that are so deeply satisfying.
We found, even after many vacations to Mexico that the Peace Corps shredded our stereotypic perspective of that country and its people. Conversely, the people of other countries have stereotypes of us, gained from the media, movies, music and tourists. But through our projects and friendships, we left Mexico with a completely different understanding of the true beauty of that country and its people. In return, I feel we left them with a healthier understanding of the United States.
This is what John F. Kennedy had envisioned and clearly spelled out in the mission and goals, which to accomplish, is a slow, but proven process toward world peace.
Since returning from Mexico almost two years ago, I have been queried, not so delicately, by many people under the misconception that the Peace Corps is just for supercharged 20-year olds and not us golden oldies. Not! More and more volunteers are joining who have retired.
The Peace Corps recognizes that experience and allegedly, wisdom, is just as important as boundless energy; we just need more siestas. Idaho has a large and active group of returned Peace Corps volunteers. The Northwest regional meeting for volunteers is being hosted by the Boise group this year at BSU on March 1-3, and is open to the public.
For more information, visit www.idahopeacecorps.com.
Dave Greegor Jr., of Boise, is a retired ecologist and returned Peace Corps volunteer.