Peace Corps’ birthday overshadowed by issues

Jessie Blakeborough on Monday, Mar. 7th

By Jessie Blakeborough, a sophomore at the University of Kansas. She writes for the Kansan.

As the Peace Corps approaches 50 years of service, it can celebrate a solid foundation built by President John Kennedy in 1961.

Through the years, the Peace Corps has sent more than 200,000 volunteers to 139 countries with a mission of establishing world peace and promoting friendship.

Today, volunteers still educate children and work on bringing safe, clean water to communities across the globe as they did in the beginning days of the organization, but now the Peace Corps also offers programs that include information technology, business development and HIV/AIDS related activities.

There are 47 KU graduates serving abroad with the Peace Corps, which landed the University a spot on the Peace Corps Top Colleges 2011 list. The University ranked 25th among large universities and colleges, according to the Peace Corps website.

Unfortunately, recent reports of rape and sexual assault have been prevalent in the media, diminishing the organization’s achievements. During the past few months, several female Peace Corps volunteers have come forward and shared their experiences abroad.

In a recent “20/20” interview, Jess Smochek, a volunteer from Pennsylvania, revealed that she was gang raped in Bangladesh in 2004. Smochek said her requests to be re-located were ignored by Peace Corps officials within the country that she served.

Between 2000 and 2009, Peace Corps figures show that there were 221 rapes or attempted rapes, 147 major sexual attacks and 719 other sexual assaults – defined as unwanted or forced kissing, fondling or groping according to an ABC news article by Anna Schecter and Brian Ross.

Ben Wiechman, the University’s Peace Corps recruiter, said the safety of volunteers was a top priority and that the Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, appointed by President Obama in 2009, was particularly focused on addressing the safety of volunteers.

To better prepare volunteers against the inherent risks that come with living and working abroad, the Peace Corps is establishing prevention and response committees and has increased its focus on safety during volunteers’ in-country training.

It is important not to let the negativity overshadow all of the good that the Peace Corps has accomplished. At the same time, this is definitely an issue that requires immediate attention if the Peace Corps wants to continue to spread its message of peace and friendship across the world.

Jessie Blakeborough is a student of the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Kansas. She is currently in her second year, studying Journalism and International Studies. Jessie is an editorial writer and designer for The University Daily Kansan. Follow her blog or check out Kansan.com for more samples of her work.

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