Communications Intern 2 posted an articleInstability, unrest, and armed conflict led the agency to make the announcement in April. see more
Instability, unrest, and armed conflict led the agency to make the announcement in April.
By NPCA Staff
The history of the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is one that has been marked by moments of optimism and despair in recent years. In 2014, a hopeful time, President Barack Obama signed an agreement to launch a Peace Corps program in Myanmar. The first Volunteers arrived in 2016 to support English education. In 2019, as the third group of Volunteers were sworn in, U.S. Ambassador Scot Marciel articulated the aspirations for their work: “The people of the United States want to support the people of Myanmar to reach their goals of greater freedoms, peace, and prosperity.”
But coups, military rule, and bloody ethnic conflict have led more than 1 million people to flee the country — and have internally displaced nearly 700,000 in recent years. And in February 2021 another military coup “shattered hopes for democratic progress,” as the Council on Foreign Relations put it, in a “country beset by decades of conflict and repressive regimes.”
Children of the Palaung tribe in Shan State, Myanmar. Security concerns led Peace Corps to close the program earlier this year. Photo courtesy Peace Corps
In March 2020, Volunteers were brought home from Myanmar as part of a global evacuation caused by COVID-19. This past April, Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn announced, “Due to continued instability, unrest and armed conflict created by the military coup in Myanmar, the Peace Corps is unable to plan for the safe return of Volunteers.” Instead, the agency would be closing the post.
Of all the countries in which Volunteers were serving in 2020, this is the first post to be closed down. Needless to say that the horrific Russian war against Ukraine means that it is not safe for Volunteers to return there in the immediate future. But Peace Corps staff there, and hundreds of returned Volunteers, have continued working to support those in harm’s way. Next door in Moldova, staff and returned Volunteers have also provided extraordinary support for refugees over the past several months.
This story appears in the Spring-Summer 2022 edition of WorldView.
Communications Intern 2 posted an articleQuinton Eklund Overholser had dreamed of serving as a Volunteer in Myanmar for years. see more
Nobody wanted it to happen this way. Evacuation stories and the unfinished business of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
Schwedagon Pavilion, Yangon. Photo by Dharma from Sadao, Thailand
Myanmar | Quinton Eklund Overholser
Home: Elko, Nevada
“Hours before our flight, at our Close of Service conference, my country director asked me how I was feeling,” Quinton Eklund Overholser says. “Only then did I muster a single word: heartbroken.”
Overholser had dreamed of serving as a Volunteer in Myanmar since his first year of high school—before Peace Corps operated in Myanmar. A first-generation college student, he got his Peace Corps acceptance the day of his commencement ceremony at the University of Nevada at Reno.
Head of 100 Households: Quinton Overholser with his host family. Photo courtesy Quinton Overholser.
He loved every day in Myanmar: learning to read, write, and speak Myanma, and spending as much time as he could with the local family who hosted him. He went to meetings with his local father, the “Head of 100 Households” (mayor). He learned about Myanma music from his sister and played games with his brother. He was in training in Myanmar when the evacuation order came. The hardest part was leaving that family.
Though he was happy to reunite with family in Nevada, returning home under quarantine felt like a defeat. Overholser is still committed to returning to Myanmar as a Volunteer. The question is if and when that will be possible.
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