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 One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs