Money spent on peace is an “investment” that will eventually “mature,” said Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Oct. 27, bringing both short- and long-term gains to the United States and countries around the world. Garamendi, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968, offered his remarks at a USIP event marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps’ founding.

October 28, 2011

Money spent on peace is an “investment” that will eventually “mature,” said Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Oct. 27, bringing both short- and long-term gains to the United States and countries around the world.

Garamendi, who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia from 1966 to 1968, offered his remarks at a USIP event marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps’ founding.

Work that helps build stable, inclusive governments and developing communities’ capacity to be self-sustaining – the work done every day by USIP and the Peace Corps – is the kind of investment the U.S. should do more, Garamendi said.

Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia from 1964-1966, agreed.

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams called the two organizations “natural partners,” and thanked USIP for the “vital assistance” the Institute has provided the Peace Corps “as we evaluated the feasibility of programming in countries emerging from conflict.” He said there’s great potential for future collaboration.

USIP President Richard H. Solomon echoed Williams’ remarks.

“The United States Institute of Peace and the Peace Corps are partners in the important work of preventing conflict and building friends in the world,” said Dr. Solomon. “I congratulate them on their fiftieth anniversary. There is symmetry to the work both organizations do on the ground in unstable environments abroad. The important social and infrastructure development activity of the Peace Corps complements the conflict resolution, government stabilization, and rule of law work of the Institute. Together we are committed to building a more peaceful world.”

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, just six weeks after his inauguration.

He charged the organization with building a better understanding between Americans and people of distant lands through the work of trained volunteers. Solomon noted that the programs of both USIP and the Peace Corps have changed dramatically in recent years as their missions have expanded to include operations in dangerous, unstable regions. A panel of experts, including Colin Thomas-Jensen of the U.S. State Department, Marc Hanson of Refugees International, Krista Rigalo of the Peace Corps, and Sean Kane and Alison Milofsky of USIP, discussed the challenges of working in regions emerging from conflict.

Weak or failed civic institutions, ravaged infrastructure, heightened mistrust between groups, and the lasting effects of trauma are challenges Peace Corps volunteers and USIP staff frequently confront in their work on the ground.

Challenges like these can make simple tasks like arranging a meeting become extraordinarily difficult in post-conflict countries, Kane said, recalling his USIP work in Iraq.

Panelists said the challenges are not insurmountable, however.

Training in transferable skills like facilitation, conflict analysis, and intergroup dialogue are a critical part of the solution, panelists agreed. Through the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program, USIP has trained African peacekeeping forces to use these skills, and Milofsky suggested that volunteers deploying to post-conflict countries also need them. Thomas-Jensen noted, however, that “there is no checklist” for ensuring success.

“For the Peace Corps, preparing volunteers for service in more challenging environments has become an imperative,” said Beth Cole, USIP’s director of inter-governmental affairs. “For USIP, preparing people to serve is a core element of our work. Linking our two organizations together will lead to better volunteers and service for people all over the globe.”

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