Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jan. 25: Peace Corps Leaders Must Live Up To Original Mission

By Sylvia Gurinsky

As Americans were commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inspirational inaugural address last week, one of the principal keepers of the "Ask not" motto was breathing his last: Sargent Shriver.

Shriver, Kennedy's brother-in-law, was the founding director of the Peace Corps, which has since carried on the message of the following sentence in Kennedy's inaugural speech: "My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

The millions who have volunteered for the Peace Corps during the last half-century have carried out that tradition, for the most part. In recent years, however, a number of those volunteers have been betrayed not only by citizens of the countries they serve, but also by the leadership of their organization.

Almost two weeks ago, the ABC News program "20/20" featured an investigation of rapes of more than 1,000 female Peace Corps volunteers, and looked at the murder of one volunteer who accused another Peace Corps worker of raping schoolgirls.

The response of the agency's leaders, even during Brian Ross' report, was basically to circle the wagons. Deputy director Carrie Hessler-Radelet showed almost no emotion as Ross questioned her.

The next questions should come from Congress.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight of the Peace Corps, should publicly force Corps leaders to account for what they didn't do to protect the women - and how that will change.

For the thousands of current volunteers and for the legacies of President Kennedy, Sargent Shriver and the millions more who have served the Peace Corps so well, it must change.

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