Peace Corps seeks to expand

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April 6, 2010

4:55 AM

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams spoke at Alan B. Miller Hall Monday to approximately 250 students about volunteer opportunities for college graduates.

When President Barack Obama chose Williams to be the 18th Director of the Peace Corps in 2009 he asked Williams to double the size of the program. Congress has since approved the largest budget allowance in the history of the Corps, and Williams said volunteer participation is at a record high.

The Corps received about 1,500 volunteer applications in 2009; this market an 18 percent increase from the previous year.

Williams opened by describing his own Corps experience. At age 20, he served as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic, where he helped teachers earn high school diplomas. He later transferred to a university, where he taught and designed seminars and internships for teachers.

Williams went on to work for several Fortune 500 companies, including General Mills, Inc. He also worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development and partnered with former South African President Nelson Mandela to aid developing countries in Africa.

“[The Peace Corps] represents the best that America has to offer — our commitment to service, generosity and openness to new ideas and exchange,” Williams said. “Americans want to serve, and [the Peace Corps’s] demand is up.”

The program currently has about 7,700 volunteers serving in 76 countries with proficiencies in 250 languages. Recent college graduates make up the majority of the volunteers, while about 14 percent are 30 and older. About 17 percent of all volunteers are of minority backgrounds.

The College was ranked fifth on the Corp’s list of medium-sized supportive institutions in 2009. About 40 alumni are volunteering at present, while 540 have served since the Corps’s establishment in 1961.

Despite continued expansion, Williams said the need for aid is still great.

“We still face many of the challenges and opportunities as [did] the founders of the Peace Corps,” he said. “Poverty, disease, famine, food security and illiteracy are issues that continue to challenge developing countries, and in some cases these are exasperated by current problems like climate change, government instability and natural disasters. Not a week or a month goes by that I don’t receive country ambassadors, or my ambassadors to their countries asking for the Peace Corps to expand or re-enter their countries.”

In the next year, the Corps will expand to include programs in Sierra Leone and Indonesia, while also improving existing programs. The Corps will focus heavily on education programs, as well as food security in the areas of crop development, water systems, nutrition and small-scale road development.

This year, the Corps will also establish an Office of Innovation, a consulting branch charged with developing new ideas for growth.

Williams said that recent college graduates are the Corps’s ideal recruits due to their energy and technological skill. He said he believes that the Corps can offer an opportunity for personal growth, leadership experience, cross-cultural learning and language proficiency.

“The personal investment rewards of Peace Corps service last a lifetime,” he said. “When we work together toward a common goal, we can achieve magnificent things.”

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