News / Asia

In Asia, Peace Corps Volunteers Find Welcoming Communities

Nisha Skariah, a recent college graduate from Texas, has come to Indonesia both to teach and to learn
Nisha Skariah, a recent college graduate from Texas, has come to Indonesia both to teach and to learn
Brian Padden

As the U.S. Peace Corps celebrates its 50th year of service, the more than 8,000 volunteers currently working in the developing world still adhere to its early vision of service in communities. Volunteers working in one of the agency's newest programs in Indonesia live and work in rural communities, and are forever changed by the experience.

Making a difference

Nisha Skariah, a recent college graduate from Texas, has come to Indonesia both to teach and to learn.

“I mean I am still very young and still trying to make my way in the world and trying to figure out exactly what I want to do," she explained, "and this gives me a little opportunity to focus what I know and what I have done in my life, even with my little experience and make a big change out of that.” 



Travis Bluemling from Pennsylvania, who is also teaching English in rural Indonesia, said he wants to make a difference.

“Even if some of these kids can't get to college, learning English and at least having some knowledge of the language can separate themselves from the people next to them when they're looking for a job or meeting people,” he noted.

Bluemling and Skariah, like thousands of Peace Corps volunteers who served before them, are motivated by idealism and a desire to contribute to a better world. What separates the Peace Corps from other U.S. assistance programs is that the volunteers become part of the community where they work. They live with families and make the same wages as other teachers.

Investing in people

PEACE CORPS FACTS

About the volunteers

  • Over 200,000 Americans have served
  • 8,655 current volunteers/trainees
  • 60% women, 40% men
    19% minorities 7% over 50

John Williams was a volunteer and is now the Peace Corps director in Thailand. He said whether volunteers are working as teachers or in health clinics or with farmers, the personal connections they make are just as important as the technical knowledge they impart.  

“The encouragement that they give to a student or a farmer, or a woman in a weaving group, or a person living with AIDS who thinks nobody cares about them," Williams said. "These are the people that Peace Corps volunteers typically work with. Peace Corps volunteers don’t come with a lot of material resources but they come with a lot of heart.”  

He said what the United States gets in return for its investment in the Peace Corps is an increased understanding of the world outside its borders.

Surprises

Skariah said she expected that Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, would have a more restrictive culture.

“I expected a lot more conservative, maybe a little more, the people and the culture to be a little more restrictive but everyone has been so open and so welcoming and they really embraced me as one of their own," she said. "And I am really grateful for that because it makes me feel like I am at home.”  

Bluemling said his family expressed concern about his coming to a country where radical Islamists had targeted Americans in terrorist attacks. The most recent incident was in 2009 when terrorists detonated bombs in the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta, killing eight people.

While Bluemling thought he would be safe living in a small village, he expected a level of skepticism or even resentment from community leaders.

“However, I could not have been more wrong. They have allowed me to enter their house," he said. "I joined them in their Muslim meetings. I joined them with fasting and I even entered the mosque.”

Legacy

Peace Corps volunteers have served in many East Asian countries over the years, and now work in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia and the Philippines, as well as Indonesia.

But the program has run into a few problems over the decades. Volunteers served in Indonesia for a few years in the 1960s, but the Jakarta government asked that the program end in 1965. It only restarted last year.

Peace Corps Timeline

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid