When President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order creating Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, he envisioned 100,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) coming back annually, facilitating an enlightened U.S. foreign policy. To me, that is a world in which the Rotary Four-Way Test reigns supreme:
▪ Is it the truth?
▪ Is it fair to all concerned?
▪ Will it buiild good will and better friendship?
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▪ Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
As an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Hyannis, Massachusetts, President Kennedy may well have made that connection himself. Peace Corps and Rotary have a lot in common both in terms of what they do and how they do it.
Americans are widely recognized for their generosity and eagerness to help. We have good intentions, but good intentions without a respectful understanding are not enough. Miscommunications that hurt personal relationships also undermine international service efforts.
With 1.2 million Rotarians throughout the world, Rotarians have the inside track on cross-cultural understanding. Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have the opportunity to step outside our own country to walk with, learn from, empathize with, understand, respect and love people all around the globe. With this basis of mutual respect and understanding, the good will, fairness and mutual sharing of benefits more easily follows.
While Peace Corps requires a two-year commitment, that is often just the beginning. RPCVs like myself, who join Rotary, are empowered by the backing of a worldwide community committed to “service above self.” Returned volunteer Dave Snyder served in Guatemala. Through the Rotary Club of Coconut Grove, he found the interest and resources to sponsor medical missions to remote mountain settlements in Guatemala. A series of Rotary grants provided training for a Mayan-speaking health professional and a clinic on wheels to bring care to pregnant women and others who cannot make the trek to the clinic.
Several returned volunteers from Colombia established a micro-loan program for impoverished Colombian entrepreneurs. Rotary supported The Colombia Project in creating eight sustainable programs in Colombia and recent replications in Peru, Niger and Snyder’s Guatemalan community.
One of many RPCV-Rotarians. I joined Rotary because membership empowers me to accomplish service projects at home and abroad and support the efforts of others in eliminating global poverty, disease and injustice. Rotarians led the campaign to virtually eliminate polio on the planet, with only Pakistan and Afghanistan remaining. Rotary projects have brought clean drinking water to countless communities, contributing to improved health and freeing girls to attend school rather than gather water.
Rotary International now is focused on finding the cause and cure for Alzheimer’s. In South Florida, Rotarians for Hope & National Center for Missing & Exploited Children fight sex trafficking and exploitation of children, areas in which, regrettably, Broward and Miami-Dade lead the nation. The Coconut Grove Club supports the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative and youth sports in the West Grove.
Through Rotary, RPCVs continue service both at home and abroad. More than 220,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps, and many continue a lifetime of service in the diplomatic corps or international development. In recent years, three made the ultimate sacrifice during their continued service: Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed in Benghazi; Anita Datar, killed in the Mali hotel bombing; and Warren Weinstein, who died in a drone strike while an al Qaida hostage.
What these three realized is that the most effective response to terrorism is to build bridges of understanding.
Each of us has the ability to make a positive impact on our world. Peace Corps welcomes mid-career and retired Americans as applicants as well as recent college graduates. All have something to learn and something to give through Peace Corps service.
And without leaving home, Rotary offers an opportunity to be the change you want to see in the world.
Helene Dudley is a past president of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida and a member of the Coconut Grove Rotary Club.