UW-Madison Celebrates 50 Years of the Peace Corps

UW News Release – December 13, 2010

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s African Studies Program will host “Peace Corps and Africa: 50 Years,” an event honoring a half century of volunteer service.

On March 24-26, 2011, returned Peace Corps volunteers, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams, musicians, artists, storytellers and some of the Peace Corps’ early founders and present-day leaders will come together in Madison to celebrate, reflect, and debate the legacy of the Peace Corps in Africa and beyond.

Volunteers from Wisconsin have served around the world. Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy, more than 2,900 UW-Madison alumni have served, making it the No. 2 all-time producer of Peace Corps volunteers among universities nationwide.

“Thousands of UW alumni have volunteered to serve in Africa and elsewhere,” says Gay Seidman, director of the African Studies Program. “With this commemorative event, we will celebrate and reflect upon the contribution of the Peace Corps in Africa, while honoring the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s commitment to help to transform the world.”

Kathryn O’Connor, manager for the Chicago Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Office, notes that students from UW-Madison have repeatedly proven themselves to be as committed to service and international outreach as they are to academic excellence.

“The thousands of UW-Madison alumni that have served in the Peace Corps are certainly a testament to the university’s longstanding dedication to fostering applied learning and making the world a better place,” O’Connor says.

The Peace Corps has shaped generations of American scholars engaged with Africa and continues to do so today. About 20 current faculty served in Africa and nearly 50 former volunteers are studying in graduate programs across campus.

The Peace Corps and Africa weekend will feature a full schedule of panels, plenary sessions, storytelling, workshops and films, and will culminate in a dance and music performance. The event is open to the public, but participants are asked to register in advance.

The event kicks off with the opening of “Bringing the World Back Home,” an exhibit of art and stories brought back by Peace Corps volunteers. Organized by the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison and curated by Donna Page, the exhibit will “show the richness of the cultures we served in as volunteers,” says Kate Schachter, a former volunteer in Ghana who is leading the local chapter’s 50th Anniversary Committee. “We look forward to sharing our stories with the public. We have great stories to tell.”

“We look forward to welcoming former volunteers, their friends and family, as well as anyone touched by international volunteerism or interested in the assessing the impact of the Peace Corps,” says James Delehanty, African Studies associate director and a former Peace Corps volunteer (Niger 1979-81).

The conference will provide an opportunity to bring together a wide spectrum of participants with interests and ties to Africa, including Peace Corps volunteers who have served in Africa. Since 1961, nearly 72,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 47 African nations.

For a schedule, registration details and other information visit here.

“What a great opportunity for returned volunteers to revisit their experiences. We come back and find ourselves swept so quickly into life and work at home. Events like these help keep the Peace Corps experience fresh, alive and meaningful,” says Alex McCullough, a UW-Madison master’s student studying agroecology and a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger from 2008 to 2009.

The weekend events also include an address by current Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and a panel led by some of the early founders of the Peace Corps. They will discuss the ideals and commitment that drove the formation of a U.S. government agency promoting international peace and friendship through service and cultural exchange.

Peace Corps and Africa is hosted by the African Studies Program in partnership with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison and with support of the UW-Madison Division of International Studies, Wisconsin Alumni Association, the International Institute, the Morgridge Center for Public Service, and the Chicago Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Office.