SEATTLE, Washington — When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the Peace Corps suspended its abroad volunteer services and evacuated its volunteers from countries all around the world. The Peace Corps is a network of international service with a “mission of world peace.” Peace Corps volunteers work in host countries with community members to help improve areas such as education, agriculture, health, economic development and the environment. In March 2020, the organization lost about 7,000 volunteers from more than 60 nations. On June 3, 2022, the Peace Corps announced that it will be resuming international volunteer services in at least seven countries. As the Peace Corps resumes its work, the fight against global poverty grows stronger.
First Person Perspective on the Impact of the Peace Corps
In an interview with The Borgen Project, two former members of the Peace Corps provide an insightful perspective of the work that the Peace Corps does and the positive impacts of such work on both disadvantaged people and the volunteers themselves.
Michael and Anne Bruinooge served in the Peace Corps from 1968 to 1970, not long after President John F. Kennedy founded the organization in 1961. They lived in Malaysia, teaching English as a second language to school children in a rural area. Following their time in the Peace Corps, they continued to live abroad in Liberia, working for a nonprofit organization fighting poverty and injustice in various African countries. The services this organization provided were similar to the Peace Corps, with a focus on agricultural practices, health, education and local economy. This first-person perspective is very valuable as it serves as a reminder of the lasting positive impact an organization can have.
The Impact of the Peace Corps
Since its establishment in 1961, more than 240,000 people have volunteered with the Peace Corps. The kind of hands-on service that the Peace Corps provides is unique because it is administered by an organization that is completely dedicated to peaceful international relations and progress. The Bruinooges say that their service abroad immensely broadened their perspectives. They came to realize that problems related to global poverty are rooted in the systemic issues of the past.
On a broad level, this can mean international organizations ignoring low-income countries or a larger trend of racism in global politics. On a local level, inequalities and systemic issues are visible in communities where health and education systems prioritize the wealthy. The Peace Corps and other similar organizations attempt to minimize the inequities of foreign aid by paying close attention to the needs of each specific community.
According to the Peace Corps website, one of the primary goals of the organization is to “develop transferable skills” that can be passed down, both among members of communities in host countries as well as the volunteers themselves. Through its volunteer services, the Peace Corps attempts to establish self-sufficiency in low-income communities by prioritizing agriculture, education, health and development.
Peace Corps Resumes Service
As the Peace Corps resumes its services, volunteers are arriving in Belize, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Mexico, Peru and the Eastern Caribbean. The organization is attempting to recruit volunteers to serve in 30 countries around the world at the request of host countries.
Low-income countries suffered greatly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the macroeconomic consequences of the war in Ukraine, so losing the kind of hands-on aid that the Peace Corps provides worsened the blow. The Bruinooges testified that service abroad provides a kind of personalized care that is incredibly valuable in the fight against poverty. Following the aftermath of a public health crisis and economic downturn, the Peace Corps is taking a very valuable step by inviting volunteers to serve in more than 50 countries.
Moving Forward in the Right Direction
While the Peace Corps resuming their abroad volunteer services is a positive step in the right direction, the United States needs to be much more vigilant in the fight against global poverty and inequality. While prioritizing macroeconomic policy in foreign aid, which is necessary when it comes to recovering from the consequences of the pandemic and global stagflation, it is also important to remember the value of hands-on aid that prioritizes peaceful international relations and a generational solution to poverty.
The United States government can support macroeconomic policies like the International Affairs Budget and COVID-19 relief bills while also encouraging service organizations like the Peace Corps and Americorps. The Bruinooges testify that the impact of serving abroad is strong, and through their service in the Peace Corps, they are now connected to a lifetime commitment to justice and the fight against poverty.
A Perspective of Global Citizenship
In an international crisis of public health and economic downturn, many people are unsure of how they can make a difference. Michael Bruinooge believes that individuals should be focusing on the ideal of global citizenship in efforts for global service.
He tells The Borgen Project, “the more people everywhere [who]see themselves as a part of a global family, the better chance we have of peace and mutual progress.” While donating large sums of money, becoming hyper-involved in politics and volunteering abroad are not options for everyone, there is a way that even ordinary citizens can contribute to the fight against global injustice.
Simply reaching out to congressional representatives via email or phone call or reading an article and reposting it on social media can hold significant weight. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how interconnected the world is. Global citizens can harness this interconnectedness and use it for the global good. As the Peace Corps resumes its hands-on services abroad, the world takes another step toward eradicating global poverty.
– Ella DeVries