Hope is a prerequisite for progress, and yet increasingly difficult to find.
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out years of development progress. An estimated 333 million children are living in extreme poverty. Over 700 million people are facing chronic hunger globally, and 600 million are suffering from foodborne illnesses every year. Add the mounting pressures we’re seeing from climate disasters, economic shocks, and conflict around the world, and it’s clear that the global community is grappling with problems that are more interconnected and more complex than ever before.
The need for people to answer the call to serve is clearer than ever before, too.
Margaret Meade once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
On December 5, the world comes together to recognize International Volunteer Day and celebrate the transformative power of volunteerism.
We know the profound impact of volunteerism here at the Peace Corps. At the invitation of host county governments, we bring together bold changemakers from local communities with American Volunteers to turn hope into action.
Right now, more than 2,400 Peace Corps Volunteers are living and serving in communities across the globe, supporting projects driven by local priorities – from education to health, agriculture, and beyond. Whatever their focus, the mission guiding them is the same one that has guided the Peace Corps from our earliest days: to promote global peace and friendship by building bridges across differences.
The spark that is created as people work together across borders, with deep respect and cultural humility, is immeasurable. But, as in life, we may never know how even the smallest kindness or moment of inspiration may impact the trajectory of someone else’s journey.
At the Peace Corps, we have the gift of long relationships with countries and communities around the world and the privilege of hearing some of these stories decades later. The story of Bernie and his student, John, is just one of many.
Bernie served in Cameroon from 1979 to 1982, teaching physics in a few of the local high schools. He loved using practical demonstrations and experiments to get his students excited about learning. Although he loved his experience as a Volunteer, Bernie says he always thought that he had gotten more out of it than he had given to his Cameroonian community.
Bernie was quite surprised when we tracked him down earlier this year to reconnect him with a former student who credits him for lighting the spark for his career. The name of that former student is Ambassador John Nkengasong, the head of the State Department’s recently launched Bureau of Global Health Security and Diplomacy. Ambassador Nkengasong is leading a remarkable career with over 30 years of experience in public health, having previously served as the first Director of the African Union’s Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When I travel across the United States and speak with people who served in the Peace Corps or go to other countries to meet with young people and government leaders, I regularly hear about the transformational impact of people-to-people diplomacy and the world of possibility that results.
Whether it’s the recently announced Blue Pacific Youth Initiative that aims to empower youth to lead as advocates and stewards of their natural environment or harnessing technology in madrasas in Indonesia to link students in 400 classrooms simultaneously, we are coming together to meet the moment.
Volunteerism can be a powerful force multiplier. It can help shape the trajectory of someone else’s life and create connections that last a lifetime.
This International Volunteer Day, join us in creating a stronger global community – united in a time of great division, committed to action, and determined to build relationships that are the foundation of world peace and friendship. Be one of the small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who care enough to take action. We need you.