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The Changing Face of the Peace Corps

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The Peace Corps has recently announced that, in order to increase its number of applicants, it will be making major changes to how the organization is run. Namely, the application process will be shorter and applicants will be given the ability to choose which country and program interests them.

Since the Peace Corps’ inception in 1961 by President Kennedy, the organization has drawn more than 215,000 volunteers who have served in 139 impoverished countries. Volunteers stay in their assigned country for two years where they work in a number of fields including education, health services and agriculture. As the premier international service organization in the U.S., almost everyone has heard of the Peace Corps and many aspire to volunteer with it one day.

However, the positive image of the Peace Corps has been tarnished in recent years due to some volunteers’ bad experiences, which have been shared online and seen by many.

The number of applicants, which peaked in 2009, has fallen by more than a third since. Previously, applications were 60 pages long and took more than eight hours to complete. After submitting an application, one might not hear back about an acceptance for more than a year. The new application supposedly takes less than one hour to complete and the organization is promising to reduce wait times to no more than six months.

Additionally, applicants did not have the liberty to choose which country in which they wanted to serve. Countries and programs were assigned by the Peace Corps, sending people wherever they were needed most. The new model allows applicants to list countries and programs in order of preference. While this could lead to fewer volunteers in more dangerous countries, Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet says she is not worried about this, as many of the people who are drawn to the two-year long volunteer lifestyle are also intrigued by the more difficult areas and programs.

Unfortunately, the problems within the Peace Corps go deeper than the application process. Sixty-four percent of volunteers are women and in the past decade more than 1,000 of them have been raped or sexually assaulted while serving. Victims say that the Peace Corps did little to nothing to educate volunteers on self-defense, relocate volunteers who felt in danger or help victims after an attack. Many victims claim the Peace Corps blamed them for the assault and made attempts to cover up the incident.

While most volunteers have a positive experience serving for the Peace Corps, there is still a question of how safe the program actually is and what the organization can do to improve this. Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted say that the Peace Corps needs to address the issue and do all they can to help the women receive treatment for any physical and emotional damage. Hessler-Radelet, who is relatively new to her position as director, has agreed that the Peace Corps has a commitment to its volunteers and should be helping them.

Taylor Lovett

Sources: NPR, Peace Corps, ABC News
Photo: Peace Corps