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 Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More