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Director: Cross-Cultural Understanding Key to Peace Corps Success

February 24, 2015 The Peace Corps can benefit from engaging with countries that have tenuous relations with the United States, said Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the international organization’s director, at a Feb. 23 lecture at Georgetown.

Hessler-Radelet, who spoke as part of a semester-long conversation on development convened by the Georgetown Global Futures Initiative, said working in such areas will help the Peace Corps achieve its goal of building cross-cultural understanding.

“We need to make sure we’re reaching out to those communities who fear us or don’t understand us and who we also don’t understand,” she said.

Profound Example

The Peace Corps director told the Georgetown audience about a former child soldier whose family had been killed by Arab militia. After the boy immigrated to the U.S. and graduated from college, he joined the Peace Corps and asked to be placed in a Muslim nation so he could learn to befriend Muslims.

He was placed in Azerbaijan and is now a member of the U.S. Foreign Service.

Hessler-Radelet said the story was a profound example of increasing understanding among nations in the world.

In general, she said volunteers develop “powerful relationships of trust” when they integrate closely within a community.

“Peace Corps volunteers nurture the leaders of tomorrow,” said Hessler-Radelet, adding that 12 current African presidents have said that they got their start because of a Peace Corps volunteer.

Helping Vulnerable Communities

The director also explored the future of the Peace Corps in relation to climate change, global health issues, the rise of technology, and development challenges.

“In order to address the next development challenge . . . we will need to help vulnerable communities develop an approach to adaption,” Hessler-Radelet said.

She said the Peace Corps also helps to build the capacity for host countries to deal with issues such as gender inequality, economic stability or health challenges. She noted that Peace Corps volunteers had worked with health professionals and local volunteers in Senegal to decrease malaria incidents by 88 percent in one state.

Peace Corps applicants are now able to select the country in which they work, although more than half of them choose to serve where they are needed, Hessler-Radelet said.

A Valuable University Partner

Last week, Peace Corps announced that Georgetown ranks 10th in the country for volunteers among the nation’s medium-sized schools, with 23 volunteers currently in service.

Georgetown has consistently ranked among the top colleges and universities in the country for Peace Corps recruits. Since the agency was founded in 1961, more than 910 alumni have served in the organization.

“Because of you, we have friends in the farthest corners of our globe, and in this fractured world that is such an important thing,” Hessler-Radelet said at the lecture. “You are a university that is committed to preparing the next generation of global leaders to make a difference in the world. You’ve proven to be one of our most valuable university partners.”

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