Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Peace Corps comes to Myanmar

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 cross-cultural 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.