The University Record, April 1, 1998

Peace Corps honors U for 'legacy of service'

By Jane R. Elgass

Peace Corps Executive Director Charles Baquet (left) presented Maureen Hartford with a plaque recognizing the U-M's contributions of volunteers to the Corps. Hartford is vice president for student affairs. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

The University was honored last week by the Peace Corps for its "legacy of service that remains a source of inspiration both here at home and in communities abroad, and the contributions made toward global peace." More than 1,800 graduates have served as Peace Corps volunteers.

Presentation of a plaque bearing that message was presented March 23 by Peace Corps Deputy Director Charles Baquet III to Maureen Hartford, vice president for student affairs, on the steps of the Michigan Union. A brass plaque marks the spot on the steps where then-presidential candidate John Kennedy first mentioned the concept of the Peace Corps during a campaign appearance in 1960.

"This is a particularly important occasion," Baquet noted, "for this spot is venerated in many ways by those who have lived the Peace Corps experience." Baquet, who was a volunteer in 1965-67 in the Somali Republic, described his experience as a "seminal one that changed my life for the good."

Following the presentation, Baquet addressed a group of aspiring and returned Peace Corps volunteers in the Kuenzel Room at the Union, encouraging the returned volunteers to recruit new ones. Many of the returned volunteers served in the 1960s, shortly after establishment of the Peace Corps in March 1961.

"It's payback time," Baquet told his audience. "We need your help. This is an unadorned pitch for your support of our Millennia Project," through which the Corps hopes to recruit and place 10,000 new volunteers by the year 2000. "We know we can do it but we need your help. The best recruiter is a returned volunteer," he noted.

"There is some concern for people" among students today, Baquet said. "There is a restlessness, a curiosity; they want to do something. The Peace Corps is there to help people focus. It's an opportunity to make a contribution to humanity. We did."

Baquet gave the audience a "tour around the Peace Corps world," noting that every attempt is made to make appropriate assignments, to assign volunteers to situations in which they will feel comfortable. Assignments are almost "tailor-made," he said.

He also explained that security is always a primary concern, and that the Corps has pulled out of countries that have unstable situations. "Health and safety are uppermost in our minds. The world is a tougher place today. Safety is one of the main determinants for why we are in or out of a certain place."

An Amazon Basin Initiative is one of the projects Baquet hopes will result from the Millennia Project, with volunteers placed in each country touched by the Amazon. Activities would focus on reducing the exploitation of resources, finding land for peasants, preservation of the rain forests and protection of indigenous peoples.

He also foresees some innovative programs. There is a need, for instance, for lawyers, particularly in some African countries. Many more people than should be are in detention in Ethiopia because it lacks a good criminal justice system. Peace Corps volunteers who are lawyers could help the country establish a system.

"We want to stay relevant and meaningful, and fulfill what JFK promised at 2 a.m. Oct. 14, 1960," Baquet said.