On March 1, 1961 President Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. He asked Americans how many of them would be willing to serve their country and the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world. Thousands answered the call in 1961 and 750 were chosen to serve in 13 nations.
Throughout the summer of 1961 volunteers took tests for selection and were trained for service.
By the end of the summer groups had already begun serving, the first groups went to Ghana and Colombia, or were preparing to leave.
As volunteers were preparing to leave they were given travel itineraries, packing tips, and even guidelines for dealing with the press. Along with formal congratulation letters from Governors and Senators, volunteers were also featured in local newspapers.
Once training was over and all the packing was done, volunteers were sent on to their designated countries. The first groups served from 1961 to 1963.
After two years of service, they were all welcomed home.
While some things have changed since 1961, the life of a volunteer is still very much the same with training and living abroad. 58 years later the Peace Corps is still meeting Kennedy’s challenge of serving the U.S. and the cause of peace.
Every year, to celebrate this anniversary, the Peace Corps holds Peace Corp Week which “celebrates all the ways that Peace Corps makes a difference at home and abroad and renews its commitment to service.”
This year, Peace Corps Week is February 25 – March 3 and the theme is “Highlighting Home: What does home, family, and community look like in your Peace Corps country?” You can attend a Peace Corps event near you or vote for the best video in the Video Challenge.