National Geographic : 2011 Mar
HISTORY Peace Corps Rising Fifty years ago 51 Americans arrived in Ghana to "promote world peace and friendship." Since then, more than 200,000 volunteers---ages 18 to 86, some now diplomats and politicians---have served in 139 nations. But the Peace Corps is no fame game or numbers story; it's a sign of the times. Historian Stanley Meisler says participation dipped as the Nixon Vietnam era "took the shine off doing something for the U.S." As memories faded, the luster of service returned. Now, on the group's golden anniversary, Oval Office support and recession woes are lifting enlistment. Next, says director Aaron S. Williams: Help out in Haiti, con- tinue to empower women, improve food security. Competition for recruits? No problem. "The service pie is growing bigger," he says, "and we're going to get a larger slice." ---Jeremy Berlin Peace Corps volunteer Edward Steven Perry used this fire-making kit---metal, wool from a seedpod, and a striking rock contained in a pouch---while serving in Togo from 2005 to 2007. 0 3,000 6,000 9,000 12,000 Africa Latin America Asia Eastern Europe and Central Asia Pacific Islands Caribbean North Africa and Middle East 1961 '70 '80 '90 '00 '10* *AS OF SEPTEMBER 30, 2010 PHOTO: REBECCA HALE, NGM STAFF. GRAPHIC: MINA LIU. SOURCE: PEACE CORPS Peace Corps volunteers and trainees, by year and region served Since the Peace Corps's debut in 1961, volunteer numbers have fluc- tuated. Officials say Congress's shifting funding priorities are a prime reason.