Peace Corps comes to Myan­mar

The Myanmar Times - - News -

IN Novem­ber 2014 US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced that Peace Corps would open a pro­gram in Myan­mar – the 141st coun­try to work with the US gov­ern­ment-funded or­gan­i­sa­tion, es­tab­lished in 1961.

The first Peace Corps vol­un­teers were ex­pected to ar­rive in Myan­mar in late 2015, when they would un­dergo three months of train­ing be­fore mov­ing to their work sites for two years. How­ever, the first group of six vol­un­teers did not ar­rive in the coun­try un­til ear­lier this month, on Septem­ber 17.

The Myan­mar Times spoke with Peace Corps coun­try di­rec­tor Maura Ful­ton about the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s pi­lot pro­gram in Myan­mar. This in­ter­view has been edited for length and clar­ity.

The US em­bassy ini­tially an­nounced that vol­un­teers would ar­rive in Myan­mar in late 2015. Why the change of plans? There were some de­lays due to the tim­ing of the 2015 elec­tion. In 2016, Peace Corps has been work­ing closely with gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar of­fi­cials, Yan­gon Re­gion and town­ship of­fi­cials, and school prin­ci­pals and Eng­lish teach­ers to col­lab­o­ra­tively shape the Eng­lish ed­u­ca­tion project and make our part­ner­ship a re­al­ity.

Where are the vol­un­teer sites lo­cated and how were the sites cho­sen? [Peace Corps vol­un­teers will be in] six town­ships in Yan­gon Re­gion.

Peace Corps worked closely with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Yan­gon Re­gion gov­ern­ment to se­lect the sites based on the Yan­gon Re­gion’s pri­or­i­ties and on Peace Corps’ cri­te­ria. The Yan­gon Re­gion gov­ern­ment se­lected sites with the great­est need, in­ter­est and mo­ti­va­tion. Peace Corps vol­un­teers work in va­ri­ety of sec­tors – ed­u­ca­tion, health, com­mu­nity eco­nomic devel­op­ment, en­vi­ron­ment, youth in devel­op­ment and agri­cul­ture. Of these, why was ed­u­ca­tion cho­sen over the oth­ers to start the pro­gram? Peace Corps op­er­ates in coun­tries to which it has been in­vited. In 2013 the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs in­vited Peace Corps to open a pro­gram in Myan­mar and in the same year, Peace Corps con­ducted two assessments.

Ed­u­ca­tion was among the top sec­tors that emerged dur­ing the 2013 assessments and was se­lected for the first project. In re­sponse to the needs of the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar, Peace Corps de­vel­oped an Eng­lish ed­u­ca­tion project that fills a need for teacher train­ing and Eng­lish in­struc­tion at the ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion mid­dle and high school lev­els. What is the util­ity of Myan­mar stu­dents in ru­ral ar­eas learn­ing Eng­lish? As Myan­mar in­creases its ties to the rest of the world and the global econ­omy, the de­mand for Eng­lish ed­u­ca­tion is also in­creas­ing. Peace Corps/Myan­mar has a unique op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute to the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s goals in cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment and teacher ca­pac­ity strength­en­ing. There is great in­ter­est from teach­ers and stu­dents to en­hance their Eng­lish lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion to help them gain greater ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and in­creased study and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance, Peace Corps vol­un­teers build bridges of friend­ship and cross­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing with their Myan­mar col­leagues, friends and neigh­bours. They share Amer­i­can cul­ture and tra­di­tions dur­ing their ser­vice, and they share Myan­mar cul­ture and tra­di­tions with their fam­ily and friends back in the United States.

Is there a plan for the Peace Corps to ex­pand into other sec­tors in the fu­ture? Is there a time frame for this? Will the num­ber of vol­un­teers be in­creased? Peace Corps will fo­cus on Eng­lish ed­u­ca­tion for the first few years of the pro­gram and would like to ex­pand into other sec­tors in the fu­ture, based on the needs and pri­or­i­ties ex­pressed by the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar. As agreed with our Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion part­ners, Peace Corps will bring 20 ad­di­tional Peace Corps vol­un­teers in the Eng­lish ed­u­ca­tion project in Fe­bru­ary 2017. Also, based on the ex­pressed in­ter­est of our gov­ern­ment Myan­mar part­ners, Peace Corps may in­crease the num­ber of Peace Corps vol­un­teers each year.

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