50 years of Peace Corps

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

MEETING WITH CONGRESSWOMAN CHELLIE PINGREE — in her Washington, D.C. office recently were Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Maine, from left, Joanne Morse, Congresswoman Pingree, Dorothy Hassfeld of Brunswick and Earl Morse.

Earl and Joanne Morse of Waterford were thrilled to attend the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

They were both college students when the late President John F. Kennedy asked Americans to give of themselves and to help those less fortunate by serving in the Peace Corps.

The Morses, married for 47 years, served as teachers in Tanzania with the Peace Corps from 1964 to 1966.

This summer, the Morses and other Lake Region area members of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers were selected by the Bridgton Lions Club to serve as Grand Marshals in the Fourth of July Parade.

“It was wonderful to see everyone at the July 4th Parade,” Joanne stated.

As for the 50th anniversary event in the nation’s capitol, Earl said, “It was very exciting — we saw everyone in the Maine Congressional delegation.”

“It was very large — there were thousands of people on the last day, we had a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Earl.

“It was a great ceremony, and it was followed by a Parade of Flags of the countries where people served,” Joanne stated. “We heard (former U.S. Senator from Connecticut) Chris Dodd. It was wonderful. We wish that this very positive aspect of American life could have been more publicized. People like Chris Dodd were influenced by the Peace Corps.”

Sen. Dodd said, as he addressed the crowd gather on Oct. 3 in Washington D.C., to honor the 50 years of service by volunteers in the Peace Corps, “Since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 200,000 men and women from across our nation have traveled to the far reaches of this earth in a spirit of friendship and peace. All shared a vision, a vision of Americans living among the communities they sought to help. A vision of working the same fields as the people they’d come to serve, of teaching where there were no schools, of healing where there were no doctors, and of building homes, schools, libraries and hospitals where none existed before. The volunteers did all this and more, asking nothing in return, except the opportunity to serve their country, and do what they could to make this a better world. As we gather to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps and reflect upon this enduring legacy, we must honor the work done by all of those who have served as volunteers.”

Fifty years later, the Peace Corps is, perhaps, needed now more than ever. Yet, there are issues that need to be addressed, if it is to remain a beacon of hope for the world.

Earl and Joanne were in a group “doing advocacy” work on behalf of the Peace Corps, according to Earl.

“We were promoting three Peace Corps issues,” Earl stated. “The first was for the passage of legislation regarding the treatment of female volunteers subjected to sexual abuse — that passed (Congress) unanimously.”

“The second issue was to establish a Peace Corps Memorial Garden down near the Potomac River, being as the Peace Corps gets very little recognition. It would simply be a garden to sit and meditate and reflect — very low key.”

The third issue the Peace Corps Advocacy group was there to muster support for was “trying to get increased funding for the Peace Corps,” said Earl. “It turns out, the Peace Corps is highly requested (by other countries) around the world. People in other countries are more welcoming, yet funding was reduced. The original funding request was for $400 million and we got $375 million — but, if there is a budgetary stalemate, there could be an additional 10% cut, across the board. So, it would reduce the Peace Corps.”

“President Kikwete of Tonga asked for 3,000 Peace Corps volunteers for his country — and he got 74 volunteers,” said Joanne.

Even though there were serious issues to address while they were in Washington, D.C., the Morses also had the opportunity to reunite with other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers they hadn’t seen in nearly half a century.

“We also had looked forward to seeing friends who served with us in the Peace Corps, who we hadn’t seen for 47 years,” said Earl. “It was a real pleasure!”

“We had a lot of common meetings — everybody was invited to attend — Bill Moyers from PBS was the moderator of a panel discussion,” he said. The former president of Peru and the vice presidents of Afghanistan and Nigeria were also there and they all said the same thing — they welcome the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps was in Afghanistan for a long time, before the Taliban took over. The Peace Corps made personal connections with village people and students who later became very influential in their government. One of our students became the Minister of Justice in Tanzania. The Vice President of Peru said that without the Peace Corps, he would not have survived. He was one of 18 children and most of them died. He was an Incan and was the first native vice president of Peru. It was Peace Corps volunteers who found him, who gave him assistance and, later on, got him in to college in California and provided scholarships.

He went on to get a law degree here in the United States and then he went on to become vice president of his country. Without the Peace Corps, he wouldn’t have been educated — he probably would have been dead — and he had incredibly fond memories of the people who assisted him.”

“Those kinds of stories are quite common,” Earl said, “and these one-on-one relationships are very important. Those friendships we established last. The Peace Corps has resulted in a huge amount of personal influence, through friendships and supportive relationships that extends way beyond Peace Corps service. The future looks very bright for the Peace Corps. When it first started, they were taking kids right out of college to teach, with no experience. Now, the Peace Corps wants people with a high level of skills to use in productive ways.”

New Peace Corps program

Earl said there is a new Peace Corps program for retired volunteers that sends them back to the country they served in where they originally were assigned.

“In this program, you sign up for a six, nine or 12-month term,” he explained. “It’s a relatively new program the Peace Corps has only for former volunteers, due to their training in language skills.”

“One thing that impressed me the most,” said Earl, “is that every (Peace Corps) volunteer has volunteered their entire lives — continually — the rate of volunteerism of those who served in the Peace Corps is twice the national average. That is certainly true of those of us who served from Maine. Henry Hamilton (of Otisfield who served in Cameroon from 1987 to 1989 and in Niger from 1992 to 1994 with his wife Shirley) still does animal husbandry, and Shirley works with the Somali community in Lewiston and Auburn. Joanne volunteers at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School working with kids with unusual needs.”

Both of the Morses can’t say enough about the good works done by volunteers in the Peace Corps.

Smiling broadly, Joanne said, “You get a lot of bang for the buck!”

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