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Happy 50th anniversary, Peace Corps!

March 1, 2011 | 12:35 pm

Peace Corps

On the occasion of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, and this month’s worldwide launch of Peace Corps Month, Maureen Orth, author and special correspondent for Vanity Fair, has written an Op-Ed for our pages about her time with the volunteer organization during the 1960s.

Today, I think I echo thousands and thousands of people who can thank the Peace Corps for setting us on a path to a more interesting and fulfilling life. Back then, women could mostly be teachers or nurses or perhaps airline stewardesses if we wanted to see the world. In the Peace Corps, whatever happened after two years at our sites, we made happen, male or female; there were no limits. That was a very liberating concept for a young woman then, just as it is for anyone today.

Peace Corps2Stanley Meisler, a former Times staff writer who also served as deputy director of the Peace Corps office of evaluation and research, shares her sentiments.

Fifty years on, what has the Peace Corps accomplished? It's possible to cite the pounds of fish sold or the pounds of honey produced under volunteer projects. But how do you measure the influence of an inspiring teacher? Or the effect on an impoverished teenage boy such as Alejandro Toledo, who, with volunteers' help, goes on to college and becomes the president of Peru?

But there is no difficulty measuring the impact of the Peace Corps on the United States. Half a century after Kennedy's call, the Peace Corps' greatest achievement may be the volunteers themselves.

UCLA will commemorate the Peace Corps March 2-5, with Orth kicking things off on the opening panel.

--Alexandra Le Tellier

RELATED:

Sargent Shriver's lasting legacy

Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sargent Shriver: The man who broke mirrors

Top photo: In a March 1966 photo, one of the Peace Corps' 12,000 volunteers teaches children in a village in the Peruvian Andes to make tapestries from their own ideas, to sell to tourists. Credit: Associated Press 

Bottom photo: President Kennedy hands Sargent Shriver the pen used to sign legislation creating the Peace Corps in March 1961 as Sen. Hubert Humphrey, second from right, watches at the White House. Credit: Reuters/ JFK Library 

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