Dear President Obama,
There was a time when the Peace Corps was just an idea. Today it is a force -- far more than a gesture of good will. Since 1961, over 60,000 volunteers in Africa, for instance, have made immeasurable contributions in fighting HIV/AIDS, bringing potable water access and food stability to African villages, protecting the environment, and teaching millions of African children to read and write. Volunteers, who are not symbols of status, are America's best ambassadors.
During your Presidential campaign, you pledged to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers to 16,000 by 2011. But you did not provide the funding in your fiscal year 2010 budget. As you know, fiscal year 2010 is the budget which will determine how many volunteers serve in 2011. Your budget increase, $34 million, would add a few hundred volunteers (but not the 8,400 needed to reach 16,000). The House of Representatives acted to correct this oversight by increasing funds to the Peace Corps by $110 million, a historic increase that would bring the budget to $450 million.
We write today to ask you, Mr. President, to speak to Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Nita Lowey, who chair the Senate and House State/Foreign Operations subcommittees, to pass the House mark for Peace Corps.
Today, you will be shocked to know that the Corps is half the size it was in 1966.
The cost of gas has gone up nine times since 1966, but the Peace Corps budget has only tripled (from $105 million to $340 million).
But the clearest proof of the enduring vitality of the Peace Corps mission is the demand. Over 20 nations want Peace Corps programs and applications have increased by 35% to 15,386 in 2009. It remains one of the strongest brand names in the world, an iconic symbol of hope and moral courage.
But in 2009, 500 trainee positions were cut. As demand soars, positions are being lost.
At a time when the job market is difficult and people are struggling to find jobs or even internships or volunteer opportunities, why are we cutting the number of Peace Corps volunteers? But this situation can be corrected with your help.
It would take just one call from you.
Yesterday, you pledged an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan. This will cost America $30 billion. The amount of money we need for the Peace Corps is $110 million - less than .01% of the cost of the 30,000 soldiers.
From 1962 to 1979, 1,652 men and women served in Afghanistan but today there is not a single Peace Corps volunteer in South Asia.
Not one among the 1.5 billion people of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
What we are asking would take just a few minutes.
Senator Patrick Leahy is a champion of the Peace Corps, a believer in its mission and he is helping build a bigger, better, bolder Peace Corps, but he already has in his State/Foreign Operations bill the full amount you requested - $374 million.
Sen. Leahy's bill has millions of dollars less to work with than the House of Representatives version, but he is still trying to help and is coming up as best he can. He needs to hear from you about your support for the House figure.
In 2011, the world will celebrate 50 years of Peace Corps. This will be a spotlight moment when millions will learn more about what it is, what volunteers have done since, and how to apply -- applications could come pouring in and the funding crisis for Peace Corps could deepen. Inspired by the legendary stories of Directors Sargent Shriver and Jack Vaughan, thousands more will apply, young and old. Peace Corps will undergo a renaissance. This budget, which will be decided in days, is therefore even more critical.
Congressman Sam Farr (Colombia 64-66), has been our leader. He was super-delegate who was promised that you would double the Peace Corps by 2011 (he requested you to triple). Thanks to his efforts, one hundred thirty-two Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are on his bill, the Peace Corps Expansion Act 2009. It calls for $450, $600, and $750 million in fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Senator Dodd's Bill, which has 13 co-sponsors, also has $450 million for FY 2010.
Many of the least developed nations in Africa have no Peace Corps workers today. We can change that. You can change that.
These are nations ravaged by HIV/AIDS like Central African Republic, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Guinea-Bissau. The average lifespan in Zimbabwe is 37 for women, 34 for men. There is poverty in these nations that we cannot even imagine. But brave Peace Corps volunteers are trying to help.
Many of the existing Peace Corps programs have far too few volunteers. For example, there are just 11 in Madagascar, 28 in Georgia, 54 volunteers in all of Mexico, 72 in Cambodia, and 30 in Jordan.
Thank you for nominating an outstanding new Peace Corps Director, Aaron Williams (DR 66-69). Director Williams, who managed a billion-dollar program in South Africa for USAID and twice received the Distinguished Service Medal, is the visionary leader we needed to build the 16,000-volunteer Peace Corps. Thank you so much.
I know that each day you read a handful of letters from people in America. I hope you read ours today. I hope you call Senator Leahy about the Peace Corps this weekend. I hope you include $600 million for fiscal year 2011 - the budget in Congressman Farr's Bill, which already has 132 co-sponsors.
Thank you so much, Mr. President. We are grateful for anything you can do. If you cannot help now, then please provide at least $600 million in fiscal year 2011 for sure.
I would like to end with a quote.
"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
This was not President John F. Kennedy in 1961 but you, President Obama, in 2009.
Peace Corps Volunteer/Nepal 01-03
Follow Rajeev Goyal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ktkbelt