ON SEPTEMBER 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the law creating the Peace Corps, sending Americans to work, learn, and build friendships across the globe. Ten years later, just out of college, I made a two-year commitment, as a forestry volunteer in the North African nation of Morocco. Joining the Peace Corps was one of my best life decisions, a defining experience that set me on a path to where I am today.

More than 240,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps over these past 60 years, nearly 2,000 from New Hampshire. Granite State participation ranks 7th-highest in the country on a per-capita basis. Peace Corps has educational partnerships with University of New Hampshire, Southern New Hampshire University, and Antioch University in Keene. Dartmouth College recently ranked 2nd among small colleges and universities nationwide in sending Peace Corps volunteers overseas.

Yes, it was very challenging to live and work for two years in a foreign country so far from family and friends. I struggled to learn the language and the culture. But the experience benefited me many times over, broadening my horizons and building knowledge, relationships, character in so many meaningful ways.

In 2008, after a career that included 12 years as a state representative, two as assistant secretary of state, and many more in business and nonprofits, I was privileged to return to the Peace Corps as a country director. For the next nine years, I supported some 1,500 volunteers of all ages in Ukraine and several African nations and witnessed the same positive spirit and can-do attitude that I observed four decades earlier.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020, Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from all 61 countries where they were serving, including 47 Granite Staters. As a result, we are observing the 60th anniversary without volunteers in the field. But I know from my experience as a country director that this is only a temporary setback. I oversaw two evacuations in 2014 — in Ukraine when the Russians invaded parts of that country and in Guinea during the Ebola epidemic — and the Peace Corps eventually came back to those countries stronger than ever!

After the Guinea evacuation, I stayed in the country with the local staff and we collaborated with U.S. government partners, using our many years of knowledge and experience in that country, on a community education effort that reached 3 million people and helped end the Ebola epidemic.

A big part of the success of the Peace Corps is the commitment to learn the culture in the countries where we serve. I was struck by a recent Washington Post op-ed by former Afghan interpreter Baktash Ahadi who argued that the American setback in Afghanistan was in part due to a failure of our military to teach cultural literacy, which hampered our effectiveness in winning over Afghan hearts and minds.

Peace Corps embraces cultural understanding, which is why the volunteers are so effective overseas and many go on to have great success as diplomats and in business and nonprofits, both domestically and overseas. The Peace Corps has a proven record of producing leaders who benefit our country in so many ways long after their service.

All 61 countries evacuated last year want Peace Corps volunteers back. And many of the Americans who served are ready to return as well. In the meantime, the National Peace Corps Association, a national nonprofit with a diverse membership of former volunteer members and colleagues, convened a series of nationwide conversations about the future of the Peace Corps and ways we can further strengthen our work and service, providing the best that America has to offer.

Peace Corps does so much at very low cost. All 60 years of Peace Corps funding is the equivalent of only about three months of our current international affairs budget! And, according to a recent poll, 77% of Americans support the expansion of national service opportunities such as Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

If you agree that Peace Corps service is needed more than ever, you can join in celebrating the 60th anniversary by urging our members of Congress to co-sponsor the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act. And it is never too late to think about serving overseas yourself, even if you are of retirement age. Our country and our world are ready for your service!

Douglass Teschner, Ed.D, was a Peace Corps forestry volunteer in Morocco in the 1970s. After a career that included serving as New Hampshire state representative and assistant secretary of state, he returned to Peace Corps as country director in Africa and eastern Europe. He lives in Pike.

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