The Peace Corps has ar­rived

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Mark Yang

Since 2013, the Peace Corps, a U.S. gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to sup­port de­vel­op­ing na­tions, has been con­duct­ing a se­ries of assess­ments to bet­ter eval­u­ate the op­ti­mum way it can sup­port Myan­mar’s tran­si­tion. As a re­sult, the Peace Corps is pre­par­ing to of­fi­cially open a lo­cal of­fice in Yan­gon in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

Mizzima Weekly’s Mark Yang met with Ms Penny Fields, the coun­try di­rec­tor of the Peace Corps in Myan­mar to dis­cuss plans.

When will the Peace Corps start its oper­a­tions in Myan­mar?

We have al­ready sort of be­gan our launch. I have been here since Fe­bru­ary this year with a small team, two Amer­i­can staff. We started to hire lo­cal Myan­mar staff. Set­ting up the of­fice to work with our part­ners in gov­ern­ment. On a lo­cal level, mak­ing con­tacts. What we are hop­ing is that we would like our first group of vol­un­teers to be on the ground in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

In which ar­eas will the Peace Corps work in Myan­mar?

Dur­ing our as­sess­ment and ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion when we were in­vited to come here, the Peace Corps only comes when in­vited; we tried to work in the ar­eas where we were asked to work. The gov­ern­ment asked us to fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and health first, sort of public health ed­u­ca­tion. So we’re look­ing at that as well.

Which ar­eas will the Peace Corps move into?

It de­pends on lo­cal needs, what the peo­ple of Myan­mar want. I think there are many ar­eas that we could work to­gether. Could you elab­o­rate more about the Peace Corps? The Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy. Our three goals are, one, to help in­ter­ested coun­tries in meet­ing their need for trained men and women, two, to help pro­mote a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Amer­i­cans on the part of the peo­ple served and, three, to help pro­mote a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of other peo­ple on the part of Amer­i­cans. For us to learn about your cul­ture and for Peace Corps vol­un­teers to share Amer­i­can cul­ture with your coun­try. We have worked in lots of dif­fer­ent tech­ni­cal ar­eas over 54 years. Now we fo­cus re­ally on six tech­ni­cal ar­eas. Ed­u­ca­tion is the ma­jor one. Health, agri­cul­ture, en­vi­ron­ment, com­mu­nity eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and youth de­vel­op­ment. Those are our six fo­cus ar­eas, but those cover a lot of dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties.

Which South East Asian coun­tries is the Peace Corps help­ing?

We are work­ing in a num­ber of ASEAN coun­tries. In Cam­bo­dia, we are work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion and health. In In­done­sia, we are work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion. In Thai­land, we have worked for more than 50 years. Thai­land is the first coun­try the Peace Corps worked in. We work in many dif­fer­ent ar­eas, youth de­vel­op­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­nity, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and var­i­ous pro­grams there. In the Philip­pines, we have worked in many dif­fer­ent ar­eas: coastal marine, fish­eries, HIV preven­tion. In China, we have English ed­u­ca­tion vol­un­teers.

Is the Peace Corps only help­ing de­vel­op­ing coun­tries?

The Peace Corps helps in ca­pac­ity build­ing. In the early days of the Peace Corps, we worked with de­vel­op­ing coun­tries only. When coun­tries reaches a cer­tain level of ca­pac­ity, then that coun­try makes their own de­ter­mi­na­tion of where we work.

What do the Peace Corps vol­un­teers do in ad­di­tion to help­ing their host coun­tries?

Peace Corps vol­un­teers are learn­ing their host coun­try’s cul­ture and tak­ing that knowl­edge back home. Be­cause I would say, for our peo­ple, we have a real need in the United States to be ex­posed to learn­ing about our world neigh­bours. The world is shrink­ing as

a global com­mu­nity. There have been 230,000 Amer­i­cans who have served as Peace Corps vol­un­teers. When they come home, they re­ally are do­mes­tic am­bas­sadors of our coun­try’s civil ser­vices. There will be no bet­ter am­bas­sadors for our coun­try’s ser­vices. The real mis­sion of the Peace Corps is ul­ti­mately to pro­mote world peace and friend­ship. It’s hugely ben­e­fi­cial to both the United States and the host coun­tries.

How do vol­un­teers share their knowl­edge when they’re back in the United States?

There are so many ways. First, I would say, tech­nol­ogy changes the Peace Corps ex­pe­ri­ence. Now, they don’t have to wait un­til they go home. Now, they’re blog­ging. By us­ing Face­book, they are shar­ing their sto­ries, pho­to­graphs and in­for­ma­tion of their coun­tries of ser­vice. There are many other ways like talk­ing with friends and fam­i­lies. Some­times, vol­un­teers do pre­sen­ta­tions at public schools. Of­ten, our vol­un­teers join the Peace Corps in­ter­est groups like the Peace Corps Alumni groups.

Fe­bru­ary 2016 is very close. Have you al­ready made de­tailed work plans for Myan­mar?

Yes, we have done a lot of plan­ning. The first thing we did is a pro­gram­matic as­sess­ment. We have two as­sess­ment teams which came to Myan­mar in 2013 and 2014. We vis­ited Nay Pyi Taw to meet with the rel­e­vant min­istries, and we vis­ited some re­gions in some states and di­vi­sions of Myan­mar. From those vis­its, we found it would be most ef­fec­tive for us to start with ed­u­ca­tion. Then, we pre­pared our re­port and a pro­posal to work in the ed­u­ca­tional field. The Min­istry of Na­tional Plan­ning and Eco­nom­ics is our coun­ter­part min­istry. As it is for ed­u­ca­tion, we pre­pared a pro­posal for the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. This week, I’m hop­ing to meet with the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to go in to fur­ther de­tails. That’s where we are at now.

In which other ar­eas, will the Peace Corps help in Myan­mar?

It would be health and ed­u­ca­tion be­cause that’s what your gov­ern­ment asked for ini­tially. We have talked with the Min­istry of Health. They have a lot of very good ideas, and we talk about the ways we can col­lab­o­rate. There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties. The dif­fi­cul­ties with health is there are so many dif­fer­ent needs which peo­ple have like nutri­tion, ma­ter­nal child health, malaria preven­tion, dengue fever, wa­ter san­i­ta­tion, etc.

Are the Min­istry of Health and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion help­ful?

Yes, I think we are en­joy­ing a good re­la­tion­ship. It’s a dif­fi­cult time in Myan­mar now. Ev­ery­one is very busy. There’s a lot go­ing on here with the com­ing elec­tion. I wouldn’t call them “not help­ful”. I’m meet­ing with the min­istries this week. I think we are go­ing to en­joy a good col­lab­o­ra­tion.

How do you look at Myan­mar’s tran­si­tional process for the time be­ing?

I am pretty new to Myan­mar. So, I am start­ing to learn it. But, it’s an ex­cit­ing time. Like any tran­si­tions, pain is grow­ing. That’s for sure. But to me, it seems like there are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for the peo­ple of Myan­mar. It’s his­toric. I feel re­ally hon­oured and ex­cited to be able to be here at this time to wit­ness the history. I’m very en­thralled.

If the tran­si­tion process turns back, would the Peace Corps leave Myan­mar?

I’m an op­ti­mist. But, it’s hard to pre­dict. the Peace Corps is very com­mit­ted to the peo­ple of Myan­mar. I’m go­ing to re­main hope­ful and op­ti­mistic. There’s go­ing to be progress.

In which sit­u­a­tions, do the Peace Corps leave its host coun­try?

The re­ally im­por­tant thing is the se­cu­rity of our vol­un­teers. We need to be con­fi­dent about our vol­un­teers’ se­cu­rity. The rea­son we have to leave a coun­try is, in most cases, safety and se­cu­rity is­sues.

What is the “Myan­mar Jour­ney” for the Peace Corps in the years ahead?

As Myan­mar is in tran­si­tion, it would be a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s go­ing to be chal­leng­ing. We’re go­ing to have to be pa­tient. We’re go­ing to have to be very open, and our vol­un­teers have to be pioneers. That’s re­ally what they are. Peace Corps vol­un­teers are pioneers who are very open and ad­ven­tur­ous peo­ple. We’re go­ing to en­joy the ad­ven­ture of Myan­mar.

How many years you have been with the Peace Corps?

I have a life-long love af­fair with the Peace Corps. I have come and gone from the Peace Corps as a vol­un­teer. I’ve just been back for four years, but cu­mu­la­tively, I have about 13 years of ex­pe­ri­ence with the Peace Corps.

How long will your love af­fair with the Peace Corps last?

Par­tic­u­larly, for the peo­ple who work as vol­un­teers with the Peace Corps, it’s a life-long love af­fair. The Peace Corps gave me much when I was quite young. I have learnt so much from the Peace Corps, such a life-trans­form­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Now, I will be in Myan­mar. That I carry with me as my own ca­reer. It has a ma­jor im­pact on me. So I don’t think I need to end my love af­fair with the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps Coun­try Di­rec­tor Ms Penny Fields. Photo: Mark Yang

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