A brief history of Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic

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.

History of the Friends of the Dominican Republic

You can read "An Historical Summary of the First 20 Years of Friends of the Dominican Republic" by clicking on this link.

Peace Corps history sources

National Peace Corps Association

Founded in 1979, the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is the nonprofit alumni network at the center of a vibrant community of 220,000 people who share the Peace Corps experience. NPCA champions lifelong commitment to Peace Corps ideals by connecting, engaging and promoting its members and affiliate groups as they continue to make a difference in communities in the U.S. and abroad. NPCA is also dedicated to advocating for, contributing to, and supporting the betterment of the Peace Corps. www.peacecorpsconnect.org

The Peace Corps

The Peace Corps website has a variety of information regarding the history and programs of the Peace Corps on their website at www.peacecorps.gov

The Peace Corps Community Archives at American University

The Peace Corps Community Archives curated by the American university Library collects, preserves, and makes available materials that were created and acquired by Peace Corps Volunteers. The archive is used to support student and scholarly research, create exhibits, and provide educational and public programs that document the experiences and impact of indivulals who served in the Peace Corps. https://blogs.library.american.edu/pcca/

National Archives & Records Administration
The National Archives is the official depository of all government records for all agencies. Search for Peace Corps, then Dominican Republic. http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/490.html

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
The Kennedy Library has a RPCV collection that includes some articles, photographs, reports, and JFK papers about the DR and the Peace Corps programs. While the total number of submissions is not large, especially from the Dominican Republic. The public can visit the Library to personally see the original documents in Boston, MA.
www.jfklibrary.org/ 

Robert B. Russel Library for Political Research and Studies
In 2013, former Peace Corps staff physician in the Dominican Republic, Robert J. Bielen, donated his collection of personal papers and memorabilia regarding the Dominican Crisis of 1965 and Peace Corps activities to this Library. The Robert B. Russel Library is housed at the University of Georgia. This collection complements Ambassador Bennett and Secretary of State's papers and includes oral interviews, articles, books, slides, scrapbooks, reports and clippings in English and Spanish. http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/

Volunteer Projects

Me Toca a Mi - In 2013 Volunteers completed an educational telenovela that deals with such themes as HIV/AIDS and self-esteem. Watch the 10 episodes oMe Toca a Mi on YouTube. 

FDR History committee

Friends of the Dominican Republic's History Committee has been working to collect documents, photos and stories that document Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. Research is being conducted to find a home for our collection that allows for public access. If you are interested in participating in this committee, writing stories based on this research, or contributing materials please contact Kim Herman at history AT fotdr.org