50th Anniversary Gathering Spotlights Critical Corps Needs
Four Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVS) from Knoxville, Knoxville and Nashville are back home following 50th Anniversary celebrations in Washington, DC. Wendy Seaward (Lesotho), Sean Keegan (Chile), Angela Harris (Papua New Guinea) and Joshua Gwinn (Burkina Faso) [photo] went to the Nation’s Capital with a message: Support legislation to honor and strengthen the Peace Corps’ mission of promoting peace and friendship around the world. They met with Representatives Diane Black, Jim Cooper, John Duncan, Chuck Fleischman, Phil Roe, and the staffs of Senators Llamar Alexander and Bob Corker.
The Returned Peace Corps volunteers from Tennessee were among 700 who committed themselves to participate in a September 22nd Capitol Hill advocacy day, organized by the National Peace Corps Association, the nation’s leading non-profit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps community. September 22nd marked fifty years to the day of final congressional passage and signing of the Peace Corps Act in 1961. More than 6,000 attended Peace Corps 50th celebrations from Sept. 21 – 25.
Advocates urged continued strong support for funding of the Peace Corps, noting the positive role Peace Corps volunteers play in U.S. outreach to the world and emphasizing the forgotten dividend and many domestic benefits RPCVs provide to communities here at home. Earlier this year Peace Corps received a $26 million cut to its $400 million budget. Advocates are seeking to forestall further cuts. Some 8,655 Peace Corps volunteers are currently in the field – an increase of nearly 1,000 from a year ago and the highest number in 40 years. Since 1961, more than 200,000 citizens have served as Peace Corps volunteers in nearly 140 different countries.
Advocates urged bi-partisan support and cooperation to ensure passage of the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act, designed to strengthen the agency’s training and response to volunteers serving overseas who are subjected to physical or sexual assault. Since this issue received much attention earlier this year, Congress, the Peace Corps and victims advocacy groups have taken significant steps forward to address the concern.
“I have a special interest in this area as a woman in our group was experiencing assaults at her assignment, and our Peace Corps Country Director would not address her safety issue. Most of the serving volunteers in Lesotho at the time wrote letters to DC and had the country director removed,” stated Wendy Seaward.
Congress is also considering legislation to authorize the creation of a commemorative work near the National Mall to mark the historic significance of the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961. This project would use no tax payer funds.