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    Entries by Chris Dodd (20)

    Monday
    Oct032011

    Senator Chris Dodd Honors the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps

    It is an honor to be here today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and to remember the sacrifice of 280 volunteers who gave their lives in service to our country.

    Five decades ago, a young President of an optimistic generation recognized the power that American ingenuity, idealism, and, most of all, volunteerism could have on people’s lives throughout the world.

    We are all well aware that we gather on sacred ground.  Here lie men and women whose dedication to our country led them to make extraordinary sacrifices in our defense.

    We honor them not only in this beautiful place, but in our daily lives, as we strive to live by the values they embodied: love of country, service to community, and selflessness in times of crisis.

    It is not just in our words and gestures, but in our deeds and actions that we live up to the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.

    The same is true when we remember those who have lost their lives while serving America’s Peace Corps.

    Since the founding of the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 200,000 men and women from across our nation have traveled to the far reaches of this earth in a spirit of friendship and peace.

    All shared a vision, a vision of Americans living among the communities they sought to help.  A vision of working the same fields as the people they’d come to serve, of teaching where there were no schools, of healing where there were no doctors, and of building homes, schools, libraries and hospitals where none existed before.

    The volunteers did all this and more, asking nothing in return, except the opportunity to serve their country, and do what they could to make this a better world.

    As we gather to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps and reflect upon this enduring legacy, we must honor the work done by all of those who have served as volunteers.

    Today, in particular, we honor the memories of the 280 volunteers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of a grateful nation.

    We must also recognize that now is the time to renew the energy, vitality, and focus of this remarkable program as we look to the future and prepare for the next 50 years of Peace Corps service.

    All of us who have been a part of these last 50 years of Peace Corps service are here today because of the vision and dedication of two great men: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and R. Sargent Shriver.

    Though they lived in a world and time faced with the constant threat of a cold war exploding into devastating global conflict, John Kennedy and Sarge Shriver believed that one of the best hopes of avoiding that disaster could be achieved by reaching out in friendship, spreading peace and goodwill.

    Thus it came to be that on the cold, pre-dawn day of October 14, 1960, then-Senator John Kennedy stood before a crowd of 10,000 students in Ann Arbor, Michigan and challenged a nation to serve their country and this world.

    On that occasion, he challenged a nation to serve, not by joining our nation’s armed forces, but by traveling to lands some had never heard of to spread friendship and peace, and demonstrate to the world what it means to be American.

    Since the creation of the Peace Corps a half century ago there has been much change throughout the world.

    The Cold War has come and gone.  New nations have come into existence.  Dictators have risen and fallen.

    Day by day the world continues to grow evermore interconnected.  People living in a village in sub-Saharan Africa, that has no electricity or running water, can now pick up a cell phone to call someone in New York. 

    For the first time, more than half the world’s people live in cities rather than rural villages.

    Some, I know, wonder whether the Peace Corps can still be effective or even necessary in this new century and this new changing world.

    The two years I served in a mountain village in the Dominican Republic were two of the richest years of my life.  They changed me forever, and inspired much of the work I would come to do as a Congressman and United States Senator.

    But just as my experience in the Peace Corps informed my future, so too can the experiences of older Americans make their service in the Peace Corps more valuable.  This incredible Peace Corps experience need not be reserved for the young.

    And we should make better use of returned volunteers, who bring home a wealth of knowledge about the world and a better understanding of cultures beyond our borders.

    The Peace Corps of course must change in order to keep pace with an ever-changing world.

    We must focus more and more on urban areas where the populations continue to increase at a rapid pace.

    We must seek out volunteers with skills in specialized areas in public health, urban planning, and financial services to confront the new challenges facing the Peace Corps and those we seek to serve.

    But while we must adapt to the realities and challenges of this new century and this new world, the Peace Corps must never lose focus of the basic ideal that has sustained the Peace Corps for a half century – an ideal captured in the simple elegance of Sarge Shriver, spoken decades ago – “basic deeds of compassion and service can shatter barriers of politics and creed.”

    America too has not been immune to the changes that have swept over the world during these past 50 years.

    The truth is that, now more than at any other point in our history, the Peace Corps is needed.

    What was once dubbed “The Bold Experiment” has not only remained an important symbol of hope throughout the world, but it has become an essential element as well.

    Two weeks after John Kennedy spoke on the steps of the Student Union at the University of Michigan, he made a major address at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. 

    It was there the Presidential candidate laid out a proposal for a “peace corps of talented young men and women…well qualified through rigorous standards, well trained in the languages, skills, and customs they will need to know.”  He called for “an agency in which their talents could serve our country around the globe.”

    And then he and Sargent Shriver built it.  They turned that vision at Michigan into one of the greatest forces for peace the world has ever known.

    As JFK said in that Cow Palace speech, “To be peace loving is not enough, for the Sermon on the Mount saved its blessings for the peacemakers.”

    And I would submit to you, as we gather here to honor the memory of 279 American volunteers who gave their lives for peace, it is not enough for us to celebrate their deeds.

    We must match them, by bringing new life and new energy to the Peace Corps, by renewing its mission and expanding its scope, by inspiring future generations to walk this path of service and exploration that has changed the lives of countless people throughout the world.

    Let us never lose the spirit, the idealism, the ambition that has led us and so many others to answer John F. Kennedy’s call to service.  Let us be the peacemakers of our time, and let us forge a path for the peacemakers of tomorrow.