Celebrating 50 years of Friendship since the Peace Corps

January 13, 2012


Celebrating 50 years of Friendship since the Peace Corps

By US Ambassador to Malaysia Paul W. Jones

FIFTY years ago today (January 12, 2012), a group of 36 young Americans arrived in Kuala Lumpur  on a typical warm, humid day to work as Peace Corps volunteers in villages and  towns throughout what was then known as Malaya.

Then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein personally welcomed the  volunteers, thanking them for providing skilled and trained manpower to assist  national development in this young nation. These 36 Americans were just  the start.  By 1967, the Peace Corps programme in Malaysia was the largest  in the world.

During the 21 years that the Peace Corps served here, it  brought more than 3,500 American volunteers to live and work in Peninsular  Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak.

American Peace Corps volunteers worked  hand-in-hand with Malaysians to improve lives and promote livelihoods.   Some volunteers provided math, science and English education to tens of  thousands of Malaysians.

Another group helped establish agricultural  organisations and public works programmes to improve agriculture.  Yet  another group was critical in the fight against tuberculosis and improving  public health. These volunteers gave their time, energy and even their  lives (six volunteers died during their service in Malaysia) helping the people  of Malaysia to develop this nation.

When the Peace Corps programme  concluded in Malaysia in 1983, former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra  al-Haj stated, “we have been most grateful to (the Peace Corps) for the help  they have given us and we feel proud to have met and known them.  May this  feeling continue for all time… the service they have rendered us will long  remain in our memory”.

Tunku’s comments continue to ring true almost 30  years later.  I have been fortunate enough to travel to almost every part  of this beautiful country.  All across Malaysia, whether in Rompin,  Pahang, the Danum Valley, Sabah, or here in Kuala Lumpur, I’ve heard stories  from my Malaysian friends across all levels of society about their unforgettable  experiences with Peace Corps volunteers.

I was touched reading the  comments from former Peace Corps volunteers attending a dinner hosted by Prime  Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Honolulu in November.

Happily, the  spirit of the Peace Corps continues today.  Just last week, another group  of young Americans arrived in Kuala Lumpur on a warm, humid day.  These  50 Americans, part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant programme, will  soon be settling into local communities in Terengganu, Pahang and Johor.  They represent President Barack Obama’s response to Najib’s request for United  States’ support to English-language education in Malaysia.

Following in  the footsteps of past Peace Corps volunteers and English teaching assistants,  these Americans will help educate Malaysia’s next generation of leaders and  provide the critical English language skills necessary to succeed in our  globalised world.

Peace Corps volunteers and English teaching assistants  have helped cement deep ties between our countries, and I see a strong  foundation for expanding understanding, prosperity and collaboration that befits  both of our peoples.

We are working together to promote shared  prosperity. The US is the largest foreign investor in Malaysia, providing  jobs to more than 150,000 Malaysians and helping Malaysia on its path to become  a high-income, knowledge-based economy.

We look forward to completing  the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and expanding trade even  further.  We are also working together to promote sustainable  development.  This includes support for Malaysia’s efforts to sustainably  manage forests and to protect coral reefs and endangered wildlife. We also share  goals to enhance energy efficiency and incentivise green growth.

 The US  is committed to peace, stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region, which  helps fuel the extraordinary growth and potential of the region.  Our  bilateral and multilateral military partnership has grown steadily.

Bilateral exercises, port calls and professional development programmes for  military personnel help both of our countries to improve our abilities to  respond to disasters, promote maritime safety and fight piracy.  Together,  we are making a difference.

Thousands of Malaysians have studied in the  US. You can find alumni of US schools and exchange programmes in every corner of  Malaysia. Likewise, there are thousands of Americans who have come to Malaysia  for education and enrichment.

These experiences have left lasting  memories and established people-to-people networks for mutual understanding and  respect between our peoples. They remind us that we are connected beyond  the material forces of politics and economics.

We are linked by thoughts,  ideas and conversations.  We share an openness of mind, a curiosity about  the world and an appreciation of arts and literature.

From President  John F. Kennedy to Obama; from Tunku Abdul Rahman to Najib, the US and Malaysia  have been partners and friends.

As we celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th  anniversary here in Malaysia, we look forward to continuing this heartfelt  spirit of friendship and cooperation in the years to come.

20 thoughts on “Celebrating 50 years of Friendship since the Peace Corps

  1. Congratulations. Thanks to the spirit of American volunteerism as symbolised by the Peace Corps. I take this opportunity to remember President John F. Kennedy and the first Peace Corp director Mr. R. Sargent Shriver (March 22, 1961-February 28, 1966).

    I had the benefit of a good American education and it has made a big difference to my life and it shaped my world view. Whatever we may say about US administrations, past and present, there is one thing most of us who have studied in the US can agree on is that the American people are generous, kind, and very helpful to foreign students.

    As in all things, people matter in relations between nations. Bilateral relations must be strengthened through business, people to people exchanges, culture and government to government partnership. The US and Malaysia are good friends, but both countries must not take that for granted. Let us sustain Malaysia-US relations on the basis of mutual respect and solid beneficial partnership.–Din Merican

  2. Please spare some of them English-teaching Yanks for the Ministry of Defence. Maybe one-to-one tutoring for the Minister himself. He has threatened to translate manually from now on. Hope he knows which hand to use.

    And I hope the U.S. Embassy here alerts the PC volunteers that “after the withdrawal of British army, the Malaysian Government take drastic measures to increase the level of any national security threat.” So be aware of your surroundings and stay away from trouble spots.

    Also beware of pigs in a poke. Such scams are rampant here. You just might get poked in the eye putting on your shirts with collar and button shirts Malay civet tight three.

    Good luck.

  3. Credit went to JFK the U.S. President who signed the executive order back in 1957 creating the U.S. Peace Corps which many years later became a federal agency and under U.S, President Obama received additional funding. But Repubican Presidents like Richard Nixon opposed the idea.

    Labelled as “cult of escapism” at home, to tools of “U.S. neocolonialism” abroad, it did well to counter the image of the Ugly American in parts of Asia and the Middle East. These American volunteers were welcome by the country’s first Prime Minister who was unashamefly strongly pro-American to the point of using the red, white and blue as his country’s flag and providing R&R for the fighting soldiers in South Vietnam. The pro U.S. foreign policy was mirrored by the country’s second and third Prime Ministers i.e. until the fourth Prime Minister broke ranks with tradition and allowed anti-U.S. sentiment to lace his foreign policy initiatives. Najib seems to have reversed it.

  4. Watch out for Hassan tALIban who will start accusing the Peace Corps of trying to proselytize to the Malay Muslims and he will be backed by Ibrahim tALIban rising to occassion to defend Malays and Islam.

  5. Din, thank you for your very kind comments. At the end of the day, it is the relationship and connections between the people.

  6. There were some Peace Spies in the American Peace Corps (not all) in those days.

    As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

    Just like the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

  7. Wow…what nostalgia….to recollect some fond memories more than two decades ago, we used to arrange with the Customs Dept of Malacca to ‘ host’ peace corps on some outing trips for FISHING and island-hoppings off the western coast…..

    It was fun to make them dizzy in the high-powered custom’s boat cutting the waves by the artfull skipper…..but delighted at the end of the trips having caught some coral fish….enthralling really.

  8. When TDM decided to teach Maths and Sciense in English in early 2000 thar decision was hailed as a master-stoke in our Education Policy by those around him who completely ignored the fact that to improve your english you need more English Classes. But that is not my point. At that some hundreds of retired teachers who were proficient in teaching Maths and Science in English registered with the Ministry of Education to be taken in as a stop-gap measure. Many of them who did not have the right padigree have since died and many more are still waiting for the call. In the mean time I understand that the Ministry of Education is busy getting english teachers from England to teach english at great expense to the taxpayer. And may I also add the United States.

    It is now then years and the Ministry of Education has not explainrd this policy to the people.

  9. I would like to take this opportunity to convey my sincere thank to American Peace Corps program. I had benefited so much in learning my maths. from a Peace Corps volunteer who had taught me when I was in my sixth form in year 1967/68. Sorry ! I had forgotten his name.

    ” The right way to learn maths does not just depend on how many maths questions you had solved , but rather how much you had learned by solving each question ”

    What a good advice he had given to us then .

  10. Thanks for the article on Peace Corps, Dato! it brings back pleasant memories. I was a beneficiary of this programme, having had a class teacher for form 4 and 5 from the US. it was the genial idea of JFK bringing people of different nations to understand the american people and their culture. this programme was a success.

    the big question now would be what can the new batch of peace corps achieve in primary and secondary schools with children/teachers already religiously biased.

    I take this opportunity to express my gratitute to my dear PC teacher Mrs. Upchurch and her husband for their many advices and good wishes.

    Don’t judge the americans by their politics. politics should be as the germans say notwendige Übel (necessary evil). malaysians would remember the sacks of milk powder, flour and tins of oil labeled ‘From the People of America’ distributed to estate and kampong schools regularly.
    It is people (American people) who matter, not their politicians in the White House and Congress. I alluded to the generosity of the American people earlier.In any emergency in any part of the world, the Americans will be the first to respond.–Din Merican

  11. I had the privilege to work with some Peace Corps as well as young volunteers from Britain (VSO) and Japan who were stationed in Sarawak. A small number were unable to fit in well with the local community due to homesickness and cultural shock but the majority seemed to have enjoyed their stay even though they were always complaining about small allowance, poor housing, lack of transport, mosquitoes and poor hygiene. And most took the opportunity to travel extensively and made many good friends. And as were expected, some married local gals. I’m still in contact with some of them and many had been returning to Sarawak with their family frequently. I was most impressed with the Japanese volunteers who were given a scrambler motorcycle (with 8 manual gears) each. They were instructed to visit even remote areas to find out what products would be useful to the rural folks so that Japanese companies can develop and export them later. Unfortunately I also lost contacts with some of them and would love to get in touch again. Anyone has any idea how I can reach them?
    For former Japanese Peace Corps, please contact the Embassy of Japan in Kuala Lumpur. If you have photographs and names, that would be helpful.I am sure the Embassy people would do the best to establish contact.–Din Merican

  12. I can personally attest to the significant impact a Peace Corps Volunteer from Baltimore had on me back in the days when I was in a small town high school. Mr Duncan Skene Catling was assigned to teach English literature but he went far beyond the curriculum and was instrumental in inculcating an aesthetic and ethical sense among his students – something few local teachers are capable of doing, because not too many approach their profession with the same level of passion and enthusiasm. The last time I saw Mr Catling was when I visited him in Baltimore, 13 years after he left Malaysia. Duncan was more than a teacher, he was a good buddy to everybody.

    • I was so pleased to read your comments on my uncle, Duncan Catling. I miss him. He was a special person in my life. He was a caring man.

  13. Malaysia is 8 years away from Mahathir’s much trumpeted VISION 2020 !! And DPM Moohiydin goes to USA to recruit Peace Corps volunteers . Good one UMNO !! Why not get Dr Hassan Ali ( now that he is no longer exco) to momitor the peace corps volunteers so that they will not try to proselytize rhe rural Malays with more talking bibles !!! Give UMNO another 5 years and Malaysia will be another Somalia

  14. U.S. Peace Corp volunteers during the time of the first three Prime Ministers have never had to deal with any anti-American sentiment. No longer the case today after the fourth Prime Minister once dubbed as the “tin-dictator” of Asia by the U.S. State Department. Today they would be well advised to exercise caution in what they do and say. Expect one or two to be deported for alleged interference into the domestic affairs of the state.

  15. President Obama should seriously ask Congress to approve budget to send Peace Corps to Iraq and Afghanistan after sending Marine Corps there in the last 10 over years. That should be the greatest intervention of the US foreign policy since the Vietnam War.

    No point talking today about the good things done by the US in the 60s to countries like Malaya/Malaysia then, because the Peace Corps was sent ot prevent the Yellow Peril from coming down from the North. A strategy to win the hearts and minds of the blinkered Asians against that Yellow Evil called Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh.

  16. Hi I am part of the US Peace corps organization as the Language Teacher for the last 4 training program in 1980 and 81 ( Training program in Batu Pahat, Melaka and Kuantan) . I would like to share that I have seen the program was an excellent to understand the American People. After teaching the US Peace Corps volunteer I went to school in COCC Bend Oregon . The two years 82 to 84 was partially sponsored by the American couple that was in Kluang Johore. I graduated from University of Oregon in 88 and have say thank you to my friend from US Peace Corps.

  17. Hi there,

    MY name is Nesaraj Julian Lourdes. I am a Malaysian who worked in the medical field as a lab tech. I am retired now.

    In 1962 I worked with a James D Lewis an American Peace Corp volunteer, he was a lab tech too then.

    He was posted in Ipoh, Perak, West Malaysia.He left Ipoh on 2o Oct 1963.

    He told me is was from Madison in Wisconsin.Please tell me how I could contact James D. Lewis.

    I can be contacted via emai at tamanehsan@hotmail.com

    Thank you,



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