Fifty years ago this past Tuesday, March 1, President John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order creating the Peace Corps whose mission was to promote peace, strengthen the bonds between nations, and provide technical assistance to developing nations. During the past 50 years, over 200,000 volunteers have served in over 70 nations world-wide. The Peace Corps came to Peru in the early 1960s and stayed until the early 1970’s when they were unceremoniously booted out by the Velasco dictatorship. The Peace Corps was invited back to Peru in 2002 during Alejandro Toledo’s presidency and has been here ever since. There are now over 200 volunteers serving in Peru along the coast and in the sierra working in the areas of water and sanitation, small business, environment, youth development, and health.
We celebrated Peace Corps’ anniversary here in Peru by throwing a number of receptions in the capital cities of our regions. The main celebration was held in Lima and I was fortunate enough to attend. On Monday, a group of current and former Volunteers, Peace Corps staff, US Embassy staff, Peruvian diplomats and the press attended a reception hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Relations in their offices in the center of Lima. I say offices but the building they occupy is a beautiful two story palace built during the colonial area. Prior to the reception, the Minister of Foreign Relations, US Ambassador and Peace Corps Chief of Staff visiting from Washington gave speeches. The reception was held on the balcony of the second floor overlooking the courtyard where we drank pisco sours, wine and ate tasty finger foods.
The following day, a larger group of Volunteers, who clean up very nicely by the way, went to the US Embassy to hear a state of the Peace Corps discourse given by the Peace Corps Chief of Staff and the Peace Corps Latin America/Pacific Regional Director. We then went to a reception thrown by the US Ambassador to Peru, Rose Likins, at her residence. The Ambassador’s residence is a stunning two story mansion occupying an entire city block. The residence was built in the 1940’s specifically as the US Ambassador’s residence and was crawling with security that night.
We entered the residence, met the Ambassador in the reception line and entered into the main hall. The first thing you see as you enter is a painting of George Washington which, as cheesy as this sounds, made me feel proud to be an American. To the right of the main entryway is a living room with some large comfy couches and a grand piano. Adjacent is a beautiful library with wood paneled walls and leather high back chairs. Out back is a large garden with a small swimming pool. We weren’t able to go upstairs and see the living quarters but I’m sure they were impressive as well.
The Ambassador and Peace Corps Chief of Staff said some nice words and we toasted the 50 years of Peace Corps. Among the invited were former and current Volunteers, staff, Peruvian counterparts, NGOs and Embassy staff. Alejandro Toledo, the ex-president and current presidential candidate also made an appearance.
There were plenty of pisco sours and wine to go around and the Volunteers behaved themselves pretty well in the face of free booze. To the left of the entryway was a beautiful dining room with perhaps the largest dining room table I’ve ever seen laid out with a terrific spread of food which was, of course, attacked (civilly mind you) by the Volunteers.
It was a truly wonderful event and further strengthened my resolve to serve my country as a diplomat (I’ve already passed the Foreign Service Exam and the next challenge is the interview/Oral Assessment in June so send some good thoughts my direction)