Peace Corps celebrates 60 years

After 60 years of service, UI alumni still serve the international community through the peace corps.


Samantha Murray, News Reporter

Created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Peace Corps continues to send Americans to other parts of the world for volunteer work. At the University of Iowa, alumni continue to participate in the 60-year-old program.

The Peace Corps operates with three main goals, according to its website: to meet the need for trained people in countries interested in the program, promote a better understanding of Americans, and promote a better understanding of other people to its American participants.

George McCaffrey is the UI campus recruiter with the Peace Corps. McCaffrey said he always wanted to join the Peace Corps as a young man, but he changed his career path while attending college at University of California – Berkeley when he married an exchange student from Europe.

His goal was achieved after retirement, when he and his wife left with the Peace Corps for Thailand and served the standard length of two years. McCaffrey said interacting with the people and the kids was his favorite part.

When he got back, McCaffrey became a recruiter, he said.

“I think that turning 60 shows how enduring this mission is,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey added that it’s important for recruits to serve their own community before joining the Peace Corps.

Sydney Wieczorek is a former Peace Corps member and an alum of the UI. Wieczorek was an English teacher with the Peace Corps in Zambia from 2017 to 2019 and used a third-year extension in 2020 to teach comprehensive sexual education.

Wieczorek said after graduating from the UI, she didn’t have a concrete plan for her life, but she knew she wanted to do something international that was not just traveling. When she looked into the Peace Corps, she said it checked all her boxes.

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“I lived in a smaller village in the northwestern province, so just learning the culture there was great. In my extension service, I moved to a bigger town and learned the difference between living in a town there versus living in a village,” Wiezcorek said. “You really got to see all aspects of Zambian culture.”

Shelby Cain is a former Peace Corps member and an alum of the UI. Cain also served in Zambia as a food security specialist volunteer from 2018 to 2020. Her interest with the Peace Corps came from a high school speaker, she said.

His speech on service in the Peace Corps resonated with her, she said, making her want to help out in the international community.

Before joining the Peace Corps, Cain said people should join to help people, not to find themselves, which in her experience happens sometimes, with the average age of a volunteer being 26.

“You have to be more external focused, and make sure that through your application to talk about how you’ve the community work and like volunteering that you’ve done before, and why your specific skills would be an asset to another community,” Cain said.

While Cain’s family worried about what she would be able to do with her business major abroad, Cain said her focus on environmental and farming concerns worked out.

Cain said her family visited her once abroad and the village in Zambia threw a cross-cultural celebration that ended up deepening her relationship with the community. The village played traditional American songs and songs from their culture.

“Peace Corps, for me, has been being connected to this long legacy of really outstanding volunteering, people who have done quite great work, and fostering friendships internationally,” Cain said.