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Peace Corps Volunteers Tell Their Tales

  • Im Sothearith
  • VOA Khmer

The advantage of being a Peace Corps volunteer is that, besides contributing to a community’s development, one understands a great deal about its society and culture.
Just ask Erica Herrmann, a Peace Corps returnee who worked in Cambodian rural areas for two years.

“You can’t fully understand the society and culture until you​’ve actually been there and lived with them,” Herrmann told a dinner discussion organized recently in Washington by the Asia Society. “This is one of the big things that I took back.”

The dinner brought together former volunteers from Cambodia, China, Mongolia, and Thailand to share their experiences.

“I know a lot of people are interested in serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Asian countries,” Sui Gyotan, the Asia Society’s coordinator of the event, told VOA Khmer. “This gathering is to provide them information to make their decisions and to help them to get well prepared for their volunteer in Asian countries, especially young people who want to develop their careers.”

Nobu Iwata, a administrative assistant at the Japan-America Society of Washington DC, who attended the discussion, said she was interested in being a Peace Corps volunteer in various countries.

“Cambodia is one the places that I want to go,” she said. “I learned from here a lot, like lifestyle, why people do it, and what they learn over there, what it means to the volunteers themselves, as well as people in Cambodia, what effects have on volunteers when they come back.”

The Peace Corps was established by US President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961, to promote international friendship and peace through US volunteers working overseas. Since its inception, the Peace Corps has sent nearly 200,000 volunteers to work in 139 countries throughout the world.

The Peace Corps opened its Cambodia program in 2006 and sent the first group of 29 volunteers in April 2007. So far, 100 volunteers have participated.

Herrman was one of the original 29 members. She worked as an English teacher at a high school in Kang Meas district, Kampong Cham province. Volunteering in Cambodia today was similar to becoming an original Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, she said.

“Very rural, very, very basic,” she said. “You know some people have electricity, most do not, no running water. I mean it is very much like it was when people went over in the 1960s.”

“If you want to have an amazing experience, you have to go to Cambodia,” Herrmann said. “If you want to feel like a hardcore Peace Corps volunteer, you’ve got to go to Cambodia.”