Stories from the Peace Corps will come to life Tuesday as Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the organization, visits three Minnesota schools to speak about the agency’s foreign service work.
Hessler-Radelet, who will visit Macalester College in St. Paul before moving on to Minnetonka High School and the University of Minnesota, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Samoa in the early 1980s.
Acting director since July 2013, she also has 20 years of public health experience working in more than 50 countries. She served as deputy director of the Corps beginning in 2010.
The Peace Corps began as a vision shared in then-Sen. John Kennedy’s 1960 campaign speech to University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor, documented by his presidential library.
“How many of you, who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?” Kennedy asked. “Technicians or engineers, how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”
Since the Peace Corps was established in 1961, more than 215,000 people have answered Kennedy’s call with service in 139 countries.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington area currently has 150 volunteers scattered to the far reaches of the Earth. In 2013, Minnesota ranked eighth out of the states with the most Peace Corps volunteers, according to figures provided by the Peace Corps.
With roots firmly planted in the Cold War, the Peace Corps was intended to bring the United States closer to other countries and build a web of friendly relations with often fragile governments. The corps’ first mission materialized with the arrival of 51 teachers in Ghana in August 1961.
Projects aid in building infrastructure and strengthening markets at the most basic level, with volunteers working alongside local governments and small businesses in varied sectors, including agriculture, education, health and youth development.
Hessler-Radelet will speak at Macalester College’s Weyerhaeuser Chapel at 10 a.m. and will be at Minnetonka High School, joined by U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., at 3 p.m. Hessler-Radelet will conclude her Minnesota tour at the University of Minnesota with a presentation at the university’s Cowles Auditorium at 6 p.m.
Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.