To Preserve and to Learn

The Museum of the Peace Corps Experience

by Martin L. Kaplan (Somali Republic 1962–64)

    LAST YEAR A GROUP of returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the Portland, Oregon area formed a committee to look into the idea of developing a museum dedicated to promoting the principles of Peace Corps service keeping in mind that the Third Goal of the Peace Corps is to bring the world back home to the United States. The original members, and the others who joined them, formalized their arrangement by becoming a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. The name of the group is Committee for a Museum of the Peace Corps Experience (CMPCE).

An exhibition of artifacts from around the world
As the Committee took shape, its first project was to plan and execute an event tied to the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the Peace Corps. In addition to honoring the Peace Corps, the purpose of this first presentation was to promote local recognition of the museum concept. With this in mind, a one-month exhibition of art and artifacts brought back to the United States by RPCVs from their host countries was held during March, 2001. Entitled “Artifacts and Anecdotes,” it was shown at a public gallery and drew hundreds of visitors. Financial support came from the Burdock/Burn Foundation with additional assistance from the Columbia River Peace Corps Association and the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland. Items from nearly 30 countries were displayed and each was accompanied by a narrative written by the RPCV who had loaned it.

The ultimate goal — a permanent museum
CMPCE has the ultimate goal of establishing a permanent museum site of national significance in Portland. It is continuing to work towards that goal by planning the types of exhibits to be included, exploring appropriate venues for such an undertaking, seeking safe storage areas for contributed items and developing a funding strategy that will include public, corporate, institutional and government monies. There are presently over 160,000 RPCVs and presumably the great majority have acquired and brought home both artistic items and objects used in everyday life in their host countries. If only five or ten percent of RPCVs respond (and it is hoped that many more will) to a call for display objects, that would be enough to establish a museum of significant size.
     The initial proposal for the museum contains the following initial outline of possible exhibits:

    Institutional history
    — the Kennedy/Shriver founding
    — project successes, changes in program focus
    — evolution of training techniques

    U.S./world political and social history reflected in Peace Corps:
    — reasons people have joined Peace Corps
    — PCVs’ assumed “CIA connections”
    — new and former PC countries

    Volunteer life:
    — stories of volunteer projects and living situations
    — what it's like to be a female/minority/elderly volunteer
    — PCV marriages to host country nationals

    Peace Corps today:
    — what volunteers are currently doing
    — recruiting resources
    — RPCV profiles, famous and otherwise

Clearly, the plans for the museum are ambitious and far-reaching. The CMPCE needs the cooperation of every RPCV and asks that those interested in providing:

    — items for display,
    — financial help
    — any other type of assistance

write Martin L. Kaplan at
Member of the Board, CMPCE, and Secretary
Further information may be obtained from the website of the CMPCE: