EPISODE 11: YOUNG PEOPLE ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE OF SERVICE
Elizabeth Jung is a Program Specialist at the Peace Corps. In this role, she supports the expansion of volunteerism in Peace Corps partner countries.
Listen to the podcast interview with the author;
YOUNG PEOPLE ANSWERING THE CHALLENGE OF SERVICE
On October 14, 1960, during his campaign for U.S. presidency, then-Senator John F. Kennedy proposed a bold idea – the creation of the Peace Corps. In front of a crowd of 10,000 students at the University of Michigan, he not only challenged the young people standing in front of him, but every young person in America to serve the cause of peace by volunteering abroad. This unique moment in time recognised the potential of young people to be a force for social change for their country and the world.
Young Americans responded to JFK’s bold invitation then, and have continued to rise to the challenge as Peace Corps Volunteersfor the last 62 years. It is a challenge that is rooted in human connection and grassroots diplomacy. To date, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 142 countries, living, and working side-by-side with global communities on locally prioritised projects.
A transformative volunteering experience
"Volunteers often describe their service as life-defining. It’s a transformative experience that affects their lives long after the two-year service commitment has ended."
Volunteers often describe their service as life-defining. It’s a transformative experience that affects their lives long after the two-year service commitment has ended. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers attest that their experience prepared them for the workplace, helped them gain unique and transferable skills, and connected them to a network of support for career and educational opportunities. As Peace Corps service influenced and changed the lives of many young Americans, those young people have, in turn, gone on to influence and change their communities as leaders in every sector of American society, including government, the NGO philanthropic sectors, business, academia, and the arts.
The Peace Corps has borne witness to what happens when young people are given the opportunity to volunteer, and how that translates into lifelong skills and a commitment to service that can catapult young people to become leaders and changemakers.
Supporting and encouraging partner country volunteerism
Today’s world is not the same as the one that existed when John F. Kennedy optimistically called upon young Americans to serve. The world has experienced seismic changes stemming from the global pandemic, climate change, and rising global inequity. These challenges are disrupting families, economies, and education outcomes, with countries experiencing these changes in their own unique ways. The world needs locally inspired ideas, systems, and solutions to confront these head on for sustainable change.
The Peace Corps continues to reflect upon the changing times and has identified critical ingredients for a successful path forward. One key element is prioritising support for, and encouragement of, partner country volunteerism. The Peace Corps has seen the impact of young Americans who are given a chance to serve, and hopes to support this same force multiplier effect in its partner countries.
"The Peace Corps has seen the impact of young Americans who are given a chance to serve, and hopes to support this same force multiplier effect in its partner countries."
With partner countries taking the lead, Peace Corps will support local volunteer initiatives, provide expertise and guidance, and strive to capture global best practices around volunteerism.
Peace Corps staff, who are deeply rooted in local communities, are exploring how Peace Corps can best support their partners as they navigate what national volunteer service looks like for them, or how to strengthen their existing volunteer sector. Peace Corps’ role includes convening partners, facilitating conversations, and exposing partners to different models of volunteer programming that exist in the U.S. or other partner countries.
Sharing information and listening to partners
"The Peace Corps is also interested in learning how new models of volunteerism developed in partner countries could improve its own programming, as well as programming in other partner countries or the U.S."
The Peace Corps is committed to listening to its partners and lending its expertise, when requested. Based on needs, the Peace Corps shares information, provide programming and operational guidance, and offer additional support as partners navigate the best ways to utilise volunteerism to meet development goals. The Peace Corps is also interested in learning how new models of volunteerism developed in partner countries could improve its own programming, as well as programming in other partner countries or the U.S.
Peace Corps’ conception stemmed from a challenge to young Americans to serve. And supporting voluntary service programs across the world has always been part of Peace Corps’ mission to promote world peace and friendship. More than 60 years later, Peace Corps matters now more than ever. As we look back on the history of change led by young people who were once asked to take a chance and volunteer, we look forward in hope, knowing that volunteer opportunities for today’s youth will continue that legacy of change. The youth of tomorrow, just like the youth of yesterday and today, should have the same opportunity to answer the challenge of service –wherever they are.
Watch the video interview below as the author unpacks the topic;