“Gray Corps” of senior citizens could help fight poverty, health problems in developing world
May 30, 2005
Americans are wealthier and older than ever before. According to recent data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from 12.4% in 2000 to 19.6% in 2030. In counting numbers, this means the number of persons aged 65 and older is expected to increase from approximately 35 million in 2000 to an estimated 71 million in 2030, while the number of persons aged 80 and older is expected to increase from 9.3 million in 2000 to 19.5 million in 2030. What these adults will do when they retire from the work force remains to be seen. While many will continue working until ages considerably older than previous generations, many will seek a comfortable retirement. Some, however, will want to devote a portion of their time to helping the less fortunate. It is this growing segment of the population that could be key to addressing a number of looming social issues both here in the United States and abroad.
The Peace Corps
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.
Since that time, more than 178,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited by 138 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education, information technology, and environmental preservation.
Peace Corps excerpt
Existing programs for seniors
AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America are community services programs that engage 2 million Americans each year.
The concept of a “Gray Corps” or “Senior Citizen’s Corps,” whereby ageing citizens spend periods of time doing volunteer work in developing countries, could pay significant dividends in the effort to alleviate human suffering in some of the poorest parts of the world. Modeled on the successful Peace Corps program established by John F. Kennedy, a GrayCorps would allow older citizens to serve their country in the cause of peace and poverty alleviation by living and working in developing countries where they would put their years of expertise to work in helping with health, education, and development issues. In many parts of the world, especially sub-Sarahan Africa, the largest impediment to development is a shortage of skills. It is these Americans who can help fill this skills gap at a minimal cost to taxpayers. As an incentive to older Americans participating in the program, earnings, though minimal, would not be included as social security income.
While older Americans would have special needs in terms of health and comfort requirements for their time in the field, their needs are not an insurmountable challenge. Carefully articulated guidelines and a government-sponsored health assessment could make this a very real and attractive option for addressing human suffering on a global scale.
The GrayCrops concept should be explored at the upcoming White House Conference on Aging, a meeting that occurs only once a decade and is meeting this year in Washington on December 11-14. Currently the focus of senior volunteer programs is towards activities in the United States. The time has come to expand these programs to the rest of the world where the payoffs will be even greater.
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