Peace Corps Returns to Nepal

Features Issue 135 Jun, 2013
Text by Kapil Bisht / Photo: ECS Media

On Friday, 30 November 2012, one of the most beneficial operations in Nepal-U.S. cooperation resumed after an eight-year hiatus when 20 men and women took their oaths as Peace Corps Volunteers. The new batch of Peace Corps Volunteers was sworn in by His Excellency Peter W. Bodde, the American Ambassador to Nepal. Once again, President Kennedy’s dream and the hopes of Nepal had merged.

The arrival of the new batch resumes a long-standing tradition of friendship and cooperation between America and Nepal, which began 50 years ago, in 1962, when Peace Corps first came to Nepal. Back then, volunteers stepped off the plane, and after a few weeks of training, walked (almost no roads existed then) to their respective districts, living a life of austere simplicity and hardships, all the while trying to improve the same lives that made such a profound impact on theirs. Mike Gill, a former Peace Corps Volunteer from the 1967 batch, was in attendance to see the new faces of the Peace Corps. “I was never the same person after my stay in Nepal. It changed my life completely,” he said in fluent Nepali. Since Peace Corps began working in Nepal, over 4,200 Volunteers have served in Nepal.

There were numerous former PCVs in the gathering, men and women, some white-haired, some in their middle ages. The history of Peace Corps in Nepal has been a tale of mutual benefit: The young Americans bringing something that improved the Nepali lives and returning home with an indelible experience of a rich culture. Hon. Singha B. Basnyat, who worked as the liaison officer for the second Peace Corps batch, regaled the crowd with anecdotes from the early days of the Peace Corps in Nepal. He reminisced how farmers used to come to PCVs asking for traps for rats as well as wild boars. He also recalled how they were fed a steady diet of daal-bhat, something they never forgot. “Long after they left Nepal,” said Singha B. Basnyat, “Americans continued to promote daal-bhat.”

Food will be one of the primary areas in which the new PCVs will work. During the two-year term that the volunteers will be in the Nepal, they will work in areas of health, nutrition, agriculture and education. Matthew Wojcik, who had impressed everyone by relating his training experience in rural Nepal in fluent Nepali, said that he would be working in the agriculture sector. “I am going to train the locals in areas such as making kitchen gardens, irrigation, and nutrition. I will also introduce them to high-value vegetables and the benefits of a balanced diet,” he said. Another volunteer, Ethan Vimont, said he would be working in a health post in Parbat District. “I will especially be working on improving the nutritional condition of mothers and children,” he said.

The current PCV group comprises individuals with academic backgrounds in diverse disciplines. “The members of the present PCV contingent in Nepal have Bachelor degrees in many fields like Environmental Science, Horticulture, International Agriculture, Social Work and Asian Culture. They have work experiences in coffee farming, agriculture, health and nutrition in various countries and they are capable and ready to work in Nepal,” said Andrea Wojnar Diagne, Country Director for Peace Corps Nepal. The new PCV group will be assigned in various villages in the districts of Baglung, Syangja, and Parbat.

As the volunteers gathered for group photos after taking their oaths, video images came up on a screen showing Peace Corps activities from the past. There were volunteers vaccinating children in villages. In others, a conspicuously white face stood out from amongst a group of villagers working in the fields. Ambassador Bodde’s description of the Peace Corps would have made an apt caption: “The Peace Corps is the best example of commitment, intelligence, and energy.”

Although Peace Corps went away from Nepal for eight years, it remained in many a villager’s stories, tales of when an “Amerikaney” (as Americans were called in rural Nepal) came and lived amongst them. Singha B. Basnyat called Peace Corps “a cultural bridge between U.S. and Nepal.” One of the new volunteers said in her address, in Nepali, that she hoped the relationship between PCVs and the Nepalese they will live amongst will in time make its way into history books. With the arrival of this latest contingent of PCVs, the bridge has once again been opened between the two countries. The mingling of the two cultures is certain to produce results fit for the history books.