Fifty years of Peace Corps on the Mall

Fifty years of Peace Corps service has been celebrated this year at the 2011 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, which wraps up today on the Mall.

More than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries with the Peace Corps since it was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Presently, there are 8,655 volunteers working in 77 countries.

The Peace Corps element of the festival has included demonstrations and talks from current and former Peace Corps volunteers about their experiences, including adapting to local clothes, food and customs.

The speakers for a presentation on Peace Corps families included Stephen and Evelyn Buff, who met while assigned to Ethi­o­pia in the 1960s and later married, and their son Jesse, who served with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua and now is an environmental advisor to the agency.

“I literally owe my existence to the Peace Corps,” Jesse Buff told the audience.

His father, Stephen Buff, reflected that today’s Peace Corps volunteers generally have far more training and specific skills than the first generation 50 years ago. “He was far more competent,” Stephen Buff said of his son.”We were generalists, he was a specialist.”

One thing that has not changed is the idealism that drives most Peace Corps volunteers, family members said. “The same spirit exists today, the same elan,” Stephen Buff said.

“The festival is an extraordinary opportunity for volunteers and community members to showcase their talents and innovatve ideas to the thousands of Americans who attend the festival,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams

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