Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to serve their country through "a peace corps of talented men and women." As Peace Corps volunteers, we saw firsthand what the power of good will can transform lives and communities in neglected corners of the globe -- and our country's image around the world.
Through war and conflict, Peace Corps volunteers have delivered to the world an inspiring, uplifting side of humanity that reflects Americans' better nature -- service to others in the common cause of global peace and development.
As we write this, more than 8,600 Peace Corps volunteers are working in 77 developing countries on crucial health, education and infrastructure projects. Even as the international community is fractured by transnational conflict and escalating nuclear threats, the Peace Corps stands alone as an unparalleled beacon of peace and optimism.
It does all this at a fraction of the cost that Washington pays to send other Americans overseas. For the price of deploying one solider to Afghanistan, the Peace Corps can send 13 volunteers to serve their country in a developing nation.
In fact, the Peace Corps' total budget amounts to .01 percent of our total federal budget. Dollar for dollar, Peace Corps volunteers are one of the federal government's most effective agents of diplomacy and development, yielding an incredible return on investment. There are more than 20 countries now asking for their first volunteers and still other countries have requested an increase in the number they do have.
Within five years after Kennedy's call to action in 1961--and under the skillful leadership of Sargent Shriver--the Peace Corps had more than 15,000 volunteers working in 44 developing countries. This project demonstrated to the international community the solid American values of peace and prosperity, then overshadowed by the Cold War.
Today, the Peace Corps stands as one of the most enduring expressions of international cooperation. It has allowed more than 200,000 Americans to serve in 139 developing countries. Volunteers work shoulder-to-shoulder with millions of individuals on essential health, education, agricultural and technology projects, designed to lift up local capacity and aid community ownership.
Peace Corps volunteers are helping countless individuals who want to build a better life for themselves, their children and their communities. Volunteers are working in Samoa to improve literacy; helping build a community library and computer lab in Ghana, and increasing water access for indigenous villages in Panama.
With little resources, these volunteers serve with the spirit of public service that makes America an enduring beacon of hope and prosperity.
Taken together, the Peace Corps has contributed more than 400,000 years of service to the world in the spirit of peace and development. While the Peace Corps has now a world-renowned institution, it continues to innovate and evolve - responding to the needs of a rapidly changing world.
Peace Corps volunteers represent the hope and opportunity that make America great. We mark the 50th anniversary by honoring their service and ushering in the next generation of volunteers to serve our nation in the name of peace.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) Honda served in in the Peace Corps in El Salvador from 1965-67. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) served in the Peace Corps in Colombia from 1964-66. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) served in Somalia from 1966-67. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) served in Ethiopia from 1966-68.