As one of the 2,285 Returned Peace Corps volunteers who have called New Mexico home, I welcome this opportunity to express my support for the Peace Corps. Sept. 22 is the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the day President John F. Kennedy created an agency that promotes the values of service, peace, sacrifice, commitment and learning. As dramatically evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, our increasingly interconnected world demands global solidarity, not just charity. It is together, through common understanding from the ground up, that we can tackle worldwide problems transcending national borders, such as climate change, poverty, public health and international migration
As an idealistic 23-year-old, I joined the Peace Corps in the winter of 1972 and was assigned to Mali, West Africa. I arrived in Mali eager to share my skills with other communities. I returned from my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer with an experience and a set of people skills that continue to enrich my life. I helped build schools and wells in isolated villages that had neither and, through that work, I discovered the shared connections with my Malian counterparts. Like most Peace Corps volunteers, I experienced firsthand how important the people-to-people level of connection is in promoting global solidarity and understanding. And the spirit of volunteerism and service is as strong today as it was when JFK created the Peace Corps. According to a January 2020 poll by Change Research, 44% of Americans aged between 18 and 28 consider themselves likely to serve in a national service program, and that spirit of service is not limited to young people: 7% of Peace Corps volunteers have been over the age of 50.
This anniversary of the Peace Corps is unlike any other. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the evacuation of Peace Corps volunteers from all 61 countries in which Americans were serving and, as a result, we will observe the 60th anniversary without Peace Corps volunteers in the field. This unprecedented moment created an opportunity for the National Peace Corps Association to work with returned Peace Corps volunteers nationwide to envision what the Peace Corps should be into the future: An agency that 1) advances global peace and understanding, 2) seeks innovative solutions to shared global problems, and 3) responds to shifting expectations in the developing world.
Over the past 60 years, more than 240,000 Peace Corps volunteers have made a tremendous contribution to the communities and countries in which they served, and to our planet. I want to take this occasion to thank the New Mexico congressional delegation for its steadfast support of the Peace Corps and for its support of the 2021 Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456). Our investment in the Peace Corps is an excellent way to enable Americans to work with the peoples of the world to address the challenges of our times, and to foster peace and understanding.
The Peace Corps is needed now more than ever
Greg Polk served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali from 1973 to 1975 and returned to Mali as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in 2014.