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The Peace Corps is an agency of the United States federal government that sends volunteers worldwide to assist developing nations. These volunteers teach in schools, build houses, assist with sex education programs, and participate in a variety of other services to communities around the globe. The Peace Corps is internationally recognized as a service organization. More than 210,000 people had volunteered in nations all over the world by 2011, the 50th anniversary of the organization's founding.
Founded in 1961, the Peace Corps was inspired by a speech made by John F. Kennedy in 1960 during his successful presidential campaign. He challenged students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to find a meaningful way to contribute to their world. The famous speech motivated the students, and shortly after taking office, President Kennedy signed an executive order to form the organization. Volunteers were eager to sign up for assignments in Ghana, Tanzania, the Philippines, Chile, and St. Lucia. Approximately 5,000 individuals arrived to take the first qualifying examination offered.
In 1964, the Peace Corps Partnership Project was founded, to allow individuals at home to support the organization if they were unable to serve overseas. The program became wildly popular, and enrollment continued to increase. As the 1970s dawned, the Peace Corps began to attract volunteers with professional skills, such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, and botanists. These volunteers made up 1/5 of the total volunteer population, and their services proved invaluable in far flung corners of the globe across five continents.
The Peace Corps continues to grow and develop, with participants ranging from recent college graduates to older, more experienced individuals in singles and couples. In 2011, the group was working in 75 countries with more than 9,000 volunteers who came from all walks of life. It does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, or cultural background. The average age of a volunteer is 28, but 7% are over age 50, and the organization does prefer volunteers with experience and skill sets. Many college graduates choose to spend several years in the Peace Corps before pursuing a career, and there are student loan deferments and payoff programs offered as an incentive to recent graduates.
Service in the Peace Corps is not for everyone. The work is often physically and emotionally demanding, and some individuals may not be suited to a term of service, which lasts for two years. For others, volunteering is a wonderful way to learn new languages and see the world. Many former volunteers are also on the permanent staff of the organization, encouraging others to explore this type of service.