No Peace Corps: A blank page on people’s history of Nepal

- Rajesh Koirala

Before Nepal’s emergence as a nation in the latter half of the 18th century, the designation ‘Nepal’ was largely applied only to the Kathmandu Valley, the capital valley of country. Thus up until the unification of the country 1769, Nepal’s history is largely the history of the Kathmandu Valley.
After the unification of the country, Nepal’s history turned to a family history, systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family or specific families i.e. of Shah, Rana etc.
If someone tries to find people’s history or social history, only history of last 20 years can be found. But people’s history of almost 42 years is hiding in the minds of more than 4 thousand Americans who served as Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) in the South Asian country. Those PCVs served in Nepal and returned home to tell others of their experiences.
Despite the huge differences in wealth, culture and language between Nepal and the United States, they made great strides in the areas of small business development, education, environment, youth development and working on health and HIV/AIDS education and awareness.
Along with 27 other countries the Peace Corps program began in Nepal in 1962. The Peace Corps program ran for more than four decades in Nepal. After two bombs exploded on September 2004 at the American Center in Kathmandu, Peace Corps decided to suspend its program in Nepal. There is a gap of almost 7 years after the explosion.
Peace Corps is celebrating 50th anniversary worldwide. Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order 10924, providing for the establishment and administration of the Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis. The Peace Corps established as an independent agency to promote peace and friendship.
It all started on Oct. 14, 1960. In a 2 a.m. impromptu speech, presidential candidate and then-Senator John F. Kennedy calls on students at the University of Michigan to volunteer to serve for one to two years in the developing world. Within weeks, students organized a petition drive and gathered 1,000 signatures in support of the idea, which became the Peace Corps.
On June 1961, training for the first group of Peace Corps volunteers is conducted at U.S. colleges, universities and private agencies. On August 30 of the same year, the first group of Peace Corps volunteers, Ghana I, went to Accra as teachers. On September 22 Congress approves legislation for the Peace Corps, giving it the mandate to “promote world peace and friendship” through a mission statement that endures to that day.
The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals: helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served and helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Volunteers have helped millions of people in developing countries improve their lives. They have taught students and trained teachers, constructed bridges and water purification systems, increased food production and helped stop the spread of disease. By living and working with their hosts, Peace Corps volunteers have promoted a greater appreciation of Americans and democracy. Above all, the Peace Corps has demonstrated that America cares.
Returning Peace Corps volunteers also come home with a more sophisticated worldview, including the knowledge that we can learn many important things from other cultures. Volunteers share this knowledge with other Americans. This makes our society better.
More than 200,000 volunteers served in 139 countries of the world. With 8,655 Volunteers in 71 posts serving 77 countries, today’s Peace Corps is more relevant for developing countries like Nepal than ever.
Almost 37 percent of total volunteers in education, in health & HIV/AIDS 22 percent, in business development 14 percent, in environment 13 percent, in agriculture 4 percent, in youth development 5 percent and last 5 percent are in other sector. Nearly 7 percent of volunteers served & serving in Asia. More than one-third (37 percent) volunteers for Africa, 24 percent for Latin America, 21 percent for Eastern Europe/Central Asia, 5 percent for the Caribbean, 4 percent for North Africa/Middle East and 3 percent to Pacific Islands.
All PCVs faced/ are facing the same challenges of living in a foreign culture, learning another language, trying to find meaningful ways to contribute. In return they learnt how the rest of the world lives.
Among those 7 percent of PCVs for Asia more than 4 thousands experienced Nepal. They experienced people on those areas, desperately poor. The conditions, primitive. They spent many years in most areas where there was no electricity, no running water, no drinking water and no bathrooms or even outhouses, and they ate a very simple diet as local people ate.
Health and Laboratory Services took many to several remote villages, setting up laboratories to help local or sometimes foreign physicians in diagnosing diseases and infections and to teach a local technician to carry on the work. Many taught English, Science, Maths in those remote.
Some pairs met as PCVs, fell in love and got married in the romantic land of Kathmandu and Mount Everest. Some came with adopted children from Nepal.
Even back to the US, they are trying to help Nepal, Nepali came to the US and Nepali-speaking people (especially Bhutanese who speaks Nepali & resettled in the US). A group of returned Peace Corps Volunteers to Nepal founded ‘Friends of Nepal’ (FoN) in 1980 to intent upon supporting initiatives on a human scale. Particular emphasis in all our projects continues to be on maintaining support for local community priorities. FoN currently is working in partnership with Nepalese non-governmental organizations on projects in health care, rural income generation, education, and cultural preservation.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently marked the 60th year of its establishment in Nepal. Working together with the Government of Nepal, USAID efforts have contributed to some of Nepal’s most remarkable development successes, from building foundations of a modern economy in the early 1950s to facilitating peace, democracy and prosperity in the 2000s. The relationship between the United States and Nepal started with an assistance agreement signed on January 23, 1951.
But Nepal missed 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Really a blank page on the people’s history of Nepal.
Further Reading (click each)

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