January 13, 2012
Celebrating 50 years of Friendship since the Peace Corps
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.