“So I come here tonight to go to bed! But I also come here tonight to ask you to join in the effort…” – President John F. Kennedy
Whenever I mention “Peace Corps” to a fellow American, I look them straight in the eye. Usually, those eyes exhibit polite curiosity, a flare of recognition, or—best of all—a spark of intrigue followed by, “Oh, I always wanted to do that!” (To which I always respond, “You still can!”) Sometimes, those eyes glaze over.
It’s okay. I forgive you. “Peace Corps” is one of those terms most Americans have heard and vaguely understand but would be stumped if they were asked to explain. I’ve been there—and even after years of researching Peace Corps before and during my application process, I continue to learn more and more about it all the time.
You could say that Peace Corps was born at 2am on October 14, 1960 on the steps of the University of Michigan Union. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy was in the midst of a heated presidential campaign—in fact, he was coming directly from the third of four nationally televised debates—but gazing out at the 10,000 cheering students, his speech took an unplanned turn.
Impulsively, he asked, “How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”
That night, one thousand students signed a petition declaring their willingness to serve and live abroad. By the time he spoke the famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” during his inaugural address just a few weeks later, he had received more than 25,000 letters enthusiastically responding to his challenge.
Peace Corps was founded in 1961 and sent its first volunteers to Ghana that same year.
Plenty of information on Peace Corps is readily available, and while it’s overwhelming and even confusing at times, the last thing I want to do here is reiterate what can easily be found elsewhere—the history of the organization, statistics, information on any of the 76 countries in which Peace Corps currently operates, how to apply, etc. Instead, I’m going to explain Peace Corps to you exactly the way I explain it in Arabic to people in my community—by outlining its three fundamental goals:
1. To provide technical assistance to the local community.
2. To give members of the local community a better understanding of Americans.
3. To give Americans a better understanding of the country in which I serve and its people.
That’s right—I tricked you. By reading this right now, you are participating in Goal 3—and have been every time you’ve tuned into my blog. Surprise!
Peace Corps Morocco
The Kingdom of Morocco was the second country to partner with Peace Corps, and the program is still expanding. Last year, in 2012, Peace Corps Morocco celebrated its 50th anniversary and lauded the 4,530 Peace Corps Volunteers who have served here during that time. Currently, there are 236 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Morocco.
I was lucky enough to meet RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) from Morocco’s very first staj (or group of volunteers) at my swearing in last May. Almost all of them served in the sectors of agriculture or even cartography to help Morocco develop an infrastructure. Beginning with my staj, however, all Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco will serve exclusively in the sector of Youth Development. The last stragglers of the Health and Environment sectors ended their services this April.
The umbrella of Youth Development is vague and leaves our possibilities for work very open-ended. Volunteers are encouraged to establish themselves in their communities by building trust as teachers, assessing the community’s specific needs, and creating projects to satisfy those needs. Generally speaking, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco is a cross between a teacher and a community developer.
Each volunteer’s service is completely individual—determined by his or her host country, community, counterparts, timing, and personality, among other things. For more information on the first year of my service, continue reading here.