The Peace Corps at 60 and Beyond: A Towering Task Screening & Discussion
Since March 1, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to establish the Peace Corps, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 141 countries. Now sixty years later, the Peace Corps is at a critical crossroads. Facing the coronavirus pandemic, the agency evacuated all volunteers in March 2020 and is just now restarting operations in some countries. This pivotal moment allows us to look back on sixty years of promoting world peace and friendship, while also looking forward to the next chapter of Peace Corps history.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival began in 1967, not long after the Peace Corps, with many similar goals—especially to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of world cultures. In 2011, the Folklife Festival commemorated the agency’s fiftieth anniversary with a program that featured Peace Corps volunteers and their partners from sixteen countries.
In 2021, the Festival once more explores the agency’s significance and impact through a panel discussion featuring Peace Corps acting director Carol Spahn, Rayna Green, Rahama Wright, and Alana DeJoseph, all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Join us at 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 4, to hear the panel discuss what lies ahead for the Peace Corps as it works to resume its global presence in 2021.
To learn more about the history of the Peace Corps, the Festival is also making available the documentary film A Towering Task: The Story of the Peace Corps (2019), directed by Alana DeJoseph. Register on Eventbrite to watch the film at your convenience between 5 p.m. ET, Monday, March 1, and 11:59 p.m. ET, Thursday, March 4. Or you can join our watch party on Facebook, from 5 to 6:45 p.m. on March 4, immediately prior to the panel discussion.
About the Participants
From 1992 to 1994, Peace Corps Volunteer Alana DeJoseph was an enterprise development advisor in a small town in Mali, West Africa. Being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, she understood that as walls are being built and nations are turning inward, while at the same time global problems like climate change and pandemics are demanding global solutions, a comprehensive documentary of this internationally engaged American agency was urgently needed.
Prior to her retirement in 2014, Rayna Green was senior curator and director of the American Indian Program at the National Museum of American History. With a PhD in folklore and American studies from Indiana University, she served on university faculties, in public service institutions, and on nonprofit boards prior to her thirty-five years at the Smithsonian. From 1964 to 1966, she volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.
As the acting director of the Peace Corps, Carol Spahn brings more than twenty-five years of public and private sector experience, and has worked in countries around the world on issues ranging from small business development to infectious disease prevention and women’s empowerment. Most recently, she served as the Peace Corps chief of operations in the Africa Region covering Eastern and Southern Africa. Her Peace Corps roots extend back to her service as a volunteer from 1994 to 1996 in Romania.
Rahama Wright is a political scientist and social entrepreneur who works at the intersection of policy and economic development. After serving in the Peace Corps in Mali from 2002 to 2004, she launched Shea Yeleen, a social impact company that creates living wage jobs for women in Ghana through the creation of shea butter-based body care products. During the Obama administration, she was appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and is currently serving her third term on the council.
This event is co-sponsored by the National Peace Corps Association and the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. On March 3, the museum opens Peace Corps at 60: Inside the Volunteer Experience, an exhibition at American University Museum celebrating the sixtieth anniversary.