The Peace Corps
traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then-Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship when, on March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps.
In May of 1962, the Dominican Republic signed an agreement with the United States to allow Peace Corps volunteers to work in this country. The first group of 21 volunteers arrived on July 11, 1962. They were all male and worked in agriculture programs. Andrés (Andy) Hernández was the first Peace Corps Country Director from 1962 - 1964 and was integral in developing a work plan with Dominican officials. This plan was presented to Juan Bosch a few days after he was inaugurated president.
The United States invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965 after a military coup d'état in 1963 ousted president Juan Bosch and an interim government was installed. Andy Hernández, in response to the coup and a question from an American journalist asking if the volunteers would be evacuated said, "Governments come and go. The people stay. Peace Corps stays to work with the people." And that is what they did.
During the US invasion in 1965, Volunteers were called to the Capital, Santo Domingo, for safety purposes. However, Peace Corps nurses were one of the few groups allowed to cross the demarcation line between the two opposing sides to work in hospitals to help both the “rebel” forces and the Dominican military forces supported by the US.
Since the Peace Corps first arrived in the Dominican Republic well over 4,500 Americans have served in this Caribbean nation. Almost every Dominican community and village has known a volunteer and the immediate and long-term effects on the Dominican people’s lives will probably never be totally known. The Friends of the Dominican Republic, in cooperation with Peace Corps staff, have compiled stories and photos of these volunteers and these are the beginnings of a comprehensive history of Peace Corps in the country.
Following disasters or urgent needs in Peace Corps countries of service, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited to serve to assist recovery efforts and short-term projects. Formerly known as Crisis Corps, Peace Corps Response is now open to anyone who has the specific skills for the position. Response Volunteers have served in the Dominican Republic after major hurricanes.
Peace Corps’ programs in the Dominican Republic evolve over time to meet the new needs expressed by the Dominican government and community groups. Those that served in the early years will find some things the same and others quite different. Community and economic development and capacity building remain the fundamental orientation of the multitude of sectors and special initiatives. In recent years, two groups of approximately 40 volunteers each arrive yearly for in-country training. The trainees are hosted by Dominican families to provide friendly immersion in the language and culture. This is has proven more effective than US university campus training of the early years in that the trainees have developed stronger understanding of the culture, language, and projects earlier on.