The State Department’s costly, ill-considered decision to cut its program for Peace Corps volunteers

Eugene-Madison/WCIV/The State For nearly five decades, the Peace Corps has served as a catalyst to global change — and often for young women seeking an invaluable, off-the-clock experience. On May 8, American students would…

The State Department’s costly, ill-considered decision to cut its program for Peace Corps volunteers

Eugene-Madison/WCIV/The State

For nearly five decades, the Peace Corps has served as a catalyst to global change — and often for young women seeking an invaluable, off-the-clock experience.

On May 8, American students would have had the chance to serve alongside countless Peace Corps volunteers, exploring cultural and political differences — and finding allies in the process.

But after more than 2,200 years of serving as one of the world’s best humanitarians, the Peace Corps lost an opportunity this week to do just that — the State Department revoked permission for the recruitment of new American volunteer slots. Although an estimated 9,700 former volunteers remain abroad, the State Department’s decision leaves not only those volunteers living overseas wondering if they will join the returning volunteers, but also thousands of potential volunteers in the United States.

The argument behind the State Department’s decision is that it will “restore stability” by not allowing Peace Corps programs to recruit new volunteers. Meanwhile, for decades, the Peace Corps has had some programs that would fit these claims — youth leadership corps, education programs — while existing through other initiatives.

In fact, this decades-long plan to de-politicize the Peace Corps includes the “Operation School Travel” program, which enables Americans to volunteer in countries with mixed political and religious regimes through exchanges with the International Student Service Programs.

For those who believe the Peace Corps should be fully-funded, it is a rejection of one of the most effective tools to change perspectives. It does so at the expense of one of the longest-standing and most successful pilot projects in our country, which deserves its status as an official institution for its use in fostering better understanding of the world around us and building the capacity of the global community. It’s a fair argument to make that doing so needs more humanitarians than the 8-year old pathway the Peace Corps had developed.

In spite of these changes, it is just as possible that the best Peace Corps-style program of all will continue.

Thanks to the internet, low tuition rates, and strong connections with the largest platforms for providing direct financial aid, programs like “Operation School Travel” will continue to bring American volunteers to partners like the Peace Corps in countries with strong regulations to protect the environment and help provide essential work force skills. In addition, the opportunity to work with American colleges and universities and exchange students has offered generations of students a chance to study abroad and connect with communities and cultures while improving their skills.

Americans should be skeptical of any foreign conflict over who pays for what, and should take a hard look at programs that can bring us more out of conflict by the fact that they depend upon American volunteers who have wanted to serve for years. Today, those volunteers might be trying to earn college credit through a program like Project Readiness, a Peace Corps internship, or a student volunteer program — nothing that rises to the level of an official program.

If the intention was to accommodate newer Peace Corps programs, it is misleading to suggest that this decision was the end of international service as we know it, and we should pay attention to how effectively this decision will be implemented. For instance, the State Department said that programs, like “Operation School Travel,” could still continue to have a good outcome — without the Peace Corps itself — given that they are “more likely to be sustained.”

This might mean that by law, the Peace Corps and other similar programs like Educational Exchange Programs and Partnership Program were no longer able to serve and are instead simply unable to sign new volunteers. However, the Peace Corps is a great resource to the local community, and is the best vehicle for providing support to student and young adult volunteers, regardless of whether they are Americans or not. In that light, this decision has the potential to have a damaging effect on the programs the Peace Corps has been fostering through student and youth participation.

While our future leaders are working in the United States, our foreign service continues to enrich our country through local populations abroad. Our government should not be taking action that could cost Peace Corps volunteers their lives — or the lives of Americans who may follow.

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