Fifty years of volunteer work abroad by members of the United States Peace Corps was celebrated in Cambodia last week by US Ambassador Carol Rodley.
Former and current volunteers attended the 50th anniversary celebrations at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh. Eighty-one volunteers are now working across 14 provinces and cities in Cambodia.
Volunteers began coming to Cambodia only in 2007, said Rodley, and 165 volunteers had served in this country since then.
The Peace Corps was created by former President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Now it has 200,000 members working in more than 138 countries worldwide to help development, innovation and society.
“Former President Kennedy had three goals when he created the Peace Corps: to help lift the level of education among people in various countries; to help promote the Americans’ awareness of other countries via their experience abroad, and help promote awareness of American values to other countries via the American people,” said the US ambassador.
Volunteers are specially trained before being deployed to each country, according to the embassy. They are tutored on the language and culture of the country and also receive health and personal safety training.
Greg Bauer, one of 81 Peace Corps volunteers working in Cambodia, said that he has been teaching English and Southeast Asian history to students in Kampong Chhnang and Kandal provinces for the past two and a half years.
“I love Khmer food, culture and traditional dance. But in the education system, there are many problems,” he said. “Most teachers have a low salary, so they have no [drive] to work and spend a lot of time looking for other work,” said Bauer, 25, who speaks fluent Khmer.
Another volunteer, Alan McGough, decided to work with the Peace Corps after completing his degree in biology. He now shares his health knowledge with Cambodians.
“The reason I came to Cambodia was because I wanted to learn about the country and to help Cambodian people by educating them about health issues, such as maternal and child health, and proper diet and nutrition,” he said.
“It’s quite hard for me to communicate with them but I hope next year I will have more activities for my community when I can speak Khmer better,” said McGough, who has been working in Prey Veng province for the past 10 months.
The Peace Corps’ work provided mutual benefits for Cambodia and the US, said Phoeung Sakuna, secretary of Ministry of Education, Youths and Sports.
“This contributes to a decrease in poverty of Cambodian people who gain education,” said Phoeung Sakuna.
“I hope that when Peace Corps’ agencies come to work in Cambodia they also learn more about us such as our living conditions, Khmer language, and that Cambodian youth also learn all about the Peace Corps,” she said.