Peace Corps volunteers honored at 50th anniversary celebration

50 new Peace Corps volunteers were sworn in as part of the anniversary celebration

50 new Peace Corps volunteers were sworn in as part of the anniversary celebration

Finishing two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Totonicopán, Samra Brouk summarized her experience in three words: “challenging, surprising, satisfying.”

“It was probably the two hardest years of my life but at no point did I think there was anyplace else I should be,” said Brouk, 24, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who plans to go to law school upon returning to the U.S.

She was among some 500 volunteers, former volunteers and members of host families who gathered recently at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Stephen G. McFarland in Guatemala City to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary.

“It’s made a huge difference,” McFarland said after the ceremonies. “It’s made a difference on environmental levels, nutrition levels, health levels. Some of the municipal work and work with youth has been great, too.

“Both the volunteers and the U.S. have benefited by people getting a different view of the world and hands-on experience at affecting positive change at the local level,” McFarland said.

In addition to the Guatemala Peace Corps leadership and longtime employees, special guests at the March 25 event included Peace Corps Chief of Staff Stacy Rhodes, who told the audience, “You represent the best of our country.”

The festivities included the swearing-in of 50 new Peace Corps volunteers, including Michael Lohmuller, 23, a recent Boston College graduate from Iowa who will serve in Baja Verapaz. “I’m excited, I’m ready to get started,” he said. “Training was a good learning experience, but I’m ready to get out there.”

Also in late March, volunteers in neighboring El Salvador were treated to a visit by President Barack Obama, who was on the final leg of a three-nation, Latin America trip. The president and Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams met with a group of volunteers at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in San Salvador.

Established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, the Peace Corps dispatched its first contingent of volunteers to El Salvador in 1962 and to Guatemala in 1963. Since then, some 2,100 volunteers have served in El Salvador, including about 150 today, and 4,800 volunteers have served in Guatemala, including about 200 today.

Volunteers in Central America work in the areas of community organization and economic development, rural health and sanitation, sustainable agriculture, agro-forestry and environmental education, and youth development.

Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between U.S. citizens and the people of 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working in 77 countries.

You can also read four Peace Corps golden anniversary vignettes on pages 100, 106 and 107.

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