Monday, January 24, 2011

VESPRA--Puerto Rican Peace Corps: Two visionaries moved a generations of youths on a peaceful venture of community organization

By Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz, PhD[1]

As fate would have it, two visionaries meet in 1965 to share one idea—What are the strategies to develop Puerto Ricans communities so that they can achieve their well-being.
Los Cuerpos de Paz de Puerto Rico was Rev. Peter L. Pond’s conduit to programs for children that would assure inclusion, literacy, and foster well-being.   VESPRA was the brainchild of former Governor Don Luis Muñoz Marin, whose effort was to get the citizenry of Puerto Rico “civically occupied” through literacy, improved public health and community development.
The report from this meeting as reported in El Mundo (Rojas Daporta, M. Organizan en Cayey Cuerpo de Paz de Puerto Rico. El Mundo, 18 de enero de 1965) went like this: “the group meet with Governor Munoz Marin and his wife to discuss the possibilities of the program” According to Lcdo. Miguel Pico, one of the attendees to the meeting it was more like “marching orders”. Don Luis wanted a program that fostered voluntarism, involved youth, and engaged the citizenry in community level projects.
The “program” became “ VESPRA--Cuerpos de Paz de Puerto Rico”. It would operate initially from the grounds of old Henry Barracks, now the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey. Using “creative problem solving” community members, university students, teachers, and young professionals would engage in a volunteers movement that fostered literacy, public health projects at the “barrio level”, and would bring together youths into summer camps. The volunteers would serve on a part-time basis and earn up to $75 per months for their efforts.
Rev. Pond, Dr. Samuel Silva Gotay, and others developed the training process. It included techniques for assessment, community engagement, project development, monitoring and reporting of project successes.

Potential volunteers were recruited and an induction process would follow. In the early days there were early morning prayers and meditation, as well as a good order of physical exercise were the order of the day. A good dose of listening activities and group dynamics rounded up the training program. Rev Pond would run everybody to the hill in back of the barracks in Cayey, and from there we would recite the “Sermon of the Mount” before repelling down a shaft to the bottom and a run back to the barracks. As the training advanced, a potpurri of thinkers and doers were introduced: from Bentances and de Hostos to Martin Luther King and Ghandi. In between a little of Saul Alinski community development methods were introduced for good measure.

The results of this process yielded excellent results:

·      By the summer of 1966, approximately 6,000 people throughout communities in the Island had received services.

·      The Encampment for Citizenship was held in Henry Barracks. Eighty-four young people from 31 countries, under the direction of VESPRA worked on eleven community projects in the Cayey, Salinas and Cidra.

·      Two hundred community members had been certified as volunteers, eighty-five university students, and one hundred elementary teachers.

·      In 1967, under the skillful direction of Dr. Samuel Silva Gotay, VESPRA became a part of the “Fundación de Desarrollo Comunal de Puerto Rico”. This movement has become FUNDESCO today.

These visionaries, Pond and Muñoz Marin are no longer with us. Their ideas live in the hearts and minds of idealistic Puerto Ricans who learned during their tenure as VESPRA volunteers the values of: community development, unity, listening with humility—acting peacefully, the grace of reconciliation, creative problem solving, and justice.

[1] Dr. Prewitt Diaz  is a community psychologist, recipient of the APA International Humanitarian Award. He served as a volunteer, Coordinator of Field Operations and Training Coordinator from 1965-1966 of VESPRA.


  1. This achievement is great. Training, good suggestions and impressions on the mind of humans do wonders. Very good informative post Dr. Joseph. Thanks.


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