Business & Economy

Brattleboro’s World Learning marks its pioneering connection with the Peace Corps

A crowd gathers over the weekend to dedicate a new state Division for Historic Preservation marker honoring Brattleboro’s World Learning as an initial training site for the Peace Corps. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

BRATTLEBORO — When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps six decades ago, he sought help from his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, who had traveled the world as a student with Vermont’s Experiment in International Living.

As the Peace Corps’ first director, Shriver invited The Experiment to train volunteers the same way it taught him — a move that led the latter organization to purchase a Brattleboro property near the late writer Rudyard Kipling’s former home and establish the School for International Training, which offers undergraduate study abroad and master’s degrees in global issues.

The school has educated countless Peace Corps volunteers — as well as one Nobel Peace Prize winner, Vermont anti-landmine activist Jody Williams. Its latest generation of students graduated this past weekend. As they looked over their hillside campus to the future, they also eyed the unveiling of a state Division for Historic Preservation marker honoring the past.

“The Peace Corps and The Experiment remain powerful examples of America’s commitment to international peace, intercultural understanding, and improving lives,” the new marker says at the entrance to the school’s parent organization, World Learning.

The Saturday unveiling featured local and state dignitaries including U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, as well as such national figures as Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn.

“When compared as a percentage of volunteers per capita, Vermont consistently ranks high,” Spahn said of the nearly 1,700 Green Mountain residents who have served over the decades. “And I have to think that it has something to do with this institution.”

The CEO noted Shriver’s first two years of the program stationed 7,000 volunteers in 44 countries. Although World Learning no longer trains Peace Corps volunteers, it offers academic scholarships to participants, whose numbers have grown since 1961 to more than 241,000 in 143 countries.

“That is an army of peacemakers,” Spahn said. “There is certainly an abundance of history to commemorate and today offers a profound moment to reflect.”

Shriver, who died in 2011 at age 95, was represented at the ceremony through a statement from his son, Timothy Shriver, head of the Special Olympics.

“No alliance of organizations or people have done more to break down the walls of misunderstanding and fear that have divided culture from culture, religion from religion, country from country, people from people,” Timothy Shriver wrote. “And furthermore, no group of organizations or team of individuals have done more to stay the course in these days of increased division and polarization.”

“My dad never tired of speaking about the impact his trip with the Experiment in International Living had on his entire life,” he continued. “Never is it more important to build on the extraordinary work of the past generations than it is right now.”

World Learning is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year by serving as a transition site for Afghan refugees arriving in southern Vermont.

The Ethiopian Community Development Council, a resettlement agency funded by the U.S. State Department, has welcomed about 100 Afghan refugees to Brattleboro and surrounding towns, with plans to host a larger number over the next year.

To do so, World Learning is offering its dorms for up to 90-day stays as well as classes in cultural orientation and English and supportive services through its library and dining hall.

“We, like the Peace Corps, are committed to making a better world for future generations,” World Learning CEO Carol Jenkins said. “We remain committed to the belief that a framework of human connections and education is an effective and powerful way to make lasting change.”

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Kevin O'Connor

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