Why President Obama's Peace Corps is Relevant

03/28/2011 06:06 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2011

This month, my daughter left for Morocco, an eager volunteer in the Peace Corps, a program created exactly half a century ago by President John F. Kennedy with the goal of spreading peace and friendship.

About 200,000 volunteers have served in 139 nations and my daughter, Helen Rose Patterson, is one of more than 8,650 people this year who are working in 77 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere.

As it turns 50 years old, some people ask whether the Peace Corps is relevant in this modern age. Isn't the world inter-connected enough? Why do we need to continue this program when so many people travel anyway and if you don't, can't you connect via Facebook, Twitter, email or another form of social media?

But I think President Kennedy's famous statement: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" still rings true, especially for this generation which really understands the need to communicate and more importantly to connect through acting together. My daughter will certainly share her experiences on Facebook, via blogs and other media -- but you have to be there to do that.

Many of the volunteers are idealistic, recent college graduates seeking to engage with the world on a more personal level and join what they call "Obama's Peace Corps." But idealism knows no age limits; the oldest volunteer is an 86-year-old woman who, coincidentally, is also in Morocco.

My daughter and her peers need to feel personally invested in what they are doing and through collaborating with others to find joint solutions. Many great ideas are implemented by Peace Corps volunteers working collaboratively with the people they serve, such as solar cookers which are much safer, cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than wood or gas.

Many volunteers also hope to improve America's image by their service and show a more compassionate side to our country rather than a view often depicted on television of U.S. involvement in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now in Libya.

Most Peace Corps members live in rural, poor villages and they work during peacetime and in war. They teach English, help to build wells, hand out malaria nets or teach hand-washing practices in schools so that diseases might be avoided.

I have no idea what my daughter will do after her Peace Corps service but I know the rich tapestry of experiences in Morocco will shape her outlook on life and probably take her in a direction she never dreamed possible. Many of our staff are Peace Corps program alumni and one of my colleagues has two of her triplets currently enrolled. Famous alumni include the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, who was in Swaziland; travel writer Paul Theroux who was in Malawi; television personalities such as Chris Matthews who hosts MSNBC's Hardball program; and senior diplomats like former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, who was in Cameroon.

Perhaps President Obama summed up the benefits of the Peace Corps in a declaration to mark its 50th anniversary this year. "With each village that now has access to clean water, each young woman who has received an education and each family empowered to prevent disease because of the service of a Peace Corps volunteer, President Kennedy's noble vision lives on."