From the Archives: Peace Corps Environmental Program
The Smithsonian Institution Archives, the record keeper of the history of the Smithsonian, features a blog in THE BIGGER PICTURE, in recognition of the Folklife Festival's Peace Corps program. Smithsonian Historian Pam Henson provides insight into a unique partnership between the Peace Corps and the Smithsonian:
On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an Executive Order authorizing the Peace Corps to “promote world peace and friendship” by sharing technical expertise with other nations, and to increase mutual understanding between Americans and peoples of other nations through volunteers working abroad. Peace Corps managers and volunteers, however, were soon confronted with complex environmental problems in many of the regions they sought to aid. In 1970, the Smithsonian—through the Smithsonian Institution-Peace Corps Environmental Program (SI-PCEP)—became directly involved with Peace Corps activities and was contracted to assist in the establishment of an international environmental program.
Through this partnership, the Smithsonian helped to develop biological, conservation, and ecological projects in natural resource regions, focusing on wildlife conservation and national parks. The project director, Robert K. Poole, argued that environmental work was needed since overgrazing, deforestation, pollution, and other ecological changes were triggering devastating consequences on the economies of rural regions.
The Smithsonian helped to recruit volunteers with specialized expertise, trained them, and then provided useful information, as well as technical and scientific support, once they were in the field. Raul I. and Lecita Valdez, a married couple, both recent graduates in biology from Texas A & M University, were the first SI-PCEP volunteers to serve in the program. They established wildlife conservation and management programs in Iran, focusing on the Red Sheep of the Lake Urmiah region.
Click here to read the whole article, and to find links to more Smithsonian Institution Archives materials.
Van Lunog is the 2011 Folklife Festival blogger.