Paul Sully | Peace Corps friends of Jamaica
In March 1961, John F. Kennedy launched a new agency with a mission unlike any the world had ever seen before: to promote world peace and friendship. Kennedy's new agency was called the Peace Corps and was made up of volunteers trying to build an interdependent world, based on mutual respect and prosperity.
In his message to the US Congress, he said, "Our own freedom and the future of freedom around the world depend, in a very real sense, on their ability to build growing and independent nations where men can live in dignity, liberated from the bonds of hunger, ignorance, and poverty."
The new agency had three goals:
1. To train men and women in practical skills of use to their country.
2. To promote a better understanding around the world of Americans.
3. To promote a better understanding in America of people from other countries.
Jamaica was one of the first countries to take up this offer. In February 1962, Norman Manley signed an agreement to bring the Peace Corps to Jamaica. For 55 years, throughout successive governments, Jamaica has welcomed nearly 4,000 Peace Corps volunteers to the island.
One such volunteer was Edward. He was assigned to a junior high school in St Thomas. Many of the students had failed the Grade Four Literacy Test and were not eligible to take the Grade Six Achievement Test. Sixty-five per cent of them were reading below grade-three level.
Edward collaborated with staff to develop a 'Read to Succeed' programme, securing extra teaching materials and books and helping each teacher work with a small group of students.
MAKES A DIFFERENCE
By the time Edward finished his two years of service, 85 per cent of the students had improved their reading levels, with 60 per cent of them reading at grade three or above. Not only were those students' lives changed, but their example was proof to other students and teachers that an extra investment in education can make a difference.
Jamaica Peace Corps Volunteers' work is supported by staff, community members, friends, and family. One of the greatest impacts of the programme are the bonds between the Jamaican host families and the volunteers who live with them.
Shortly after, a volunteer named Jeremy arrived at his homestay, he noticed his host mother rarely ate food, drank water, or cooked for herself. She had been hospitalised twice for high blood pressure. Jeremy started making extra portions of nutritious smoothies for his host mother, which helped improve her appetite.
Jeremy then began making larger dinners that she would eat. One night, she told her son in America about Jeremy's cooking and said that she now has a grandson at home. Soon after, his host mother began cooking meals for herself.
One night, after a particularly long day of farm work, Jeremy came home too tired to cook. As he removed his boots, his host mother said, "Jeremy, dinner is in the pot for you. I cooked some dumplings, yellow yam, and fried cabbage for you."
Across the world, the value of volunteer work is approximately US$400 billion annually. If volunteers were a country, 'Volunteer Land' would be the ninth-largest in the world. Returned volunteers have an impact not just on Jamaica, but also on America. Returned volunteers become more active citizens, join public service through government and non-governmental positions, and become entrepreneurs.
We owe all of our volunteers and partners a debt of gratitude for the 55 years of building communities, educating students, and creating economic opportunities here in Jamaica. We hope to create more peace and friendship over the next 55 years.
- Paul Sully is country director of the Peace Corps. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.