Peace Corps Celebrates Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Agency honors leadership and continued contributions of Asian and Pacific Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2009 - This month, Peace Corps is celebrating the cultural traditions, ancestry, native languages, and unique experiences of Americans represented by the more than 30 ethnic groups from Asia and Pacific Islands. Peace Corps recognizes its Volunteer leaders serving across the globe during this year\'s national theme for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, "Leadership to Meet the Challenges of a Changing World."

A joint congressional resolution first established Asian/Pacific American Heritage week in 1978. This date was chosen because two important anniversaries occurred during this time: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in America on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, constructed largely by Chinese laborers, on May 10, 1869. In 1992, Congress expanded the observance into a month-long celebration.

Acting Director Jody Olsen said, "I am delighted to be celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by honoring the contributions of the many Asian and Pacific Americans who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. They represent part of the diverse face of America to so many people overseas, and their contributions to Peace Corps\' mission of promoting peace and friendship worldwide have been considerable."

Currently, Asian/Pacific Americans represent five percent of all Volunteers, with 380 Asian/Pacific Americans serving in posts throughout the world. Here are some of the men and women who are making a difference:

  • In Mongolia, Darlene Hernaez, a Filipino-American Volunteer, has been teaching English to secondary schools teachers and students within her community. Aside from teaching on a regular basis, Hernaez has also facilitated a scholarship based summer camp for students in rural communities who are academically gifted but economically disadvantaged.

  • In Thailand, Sue Park, a Korean-American Volunteer, is currently working on an early childhood development project which aims to train daycare teachers and improve daycare facilities. Park is working with teachers specifically on teaching story book reading techniques, not commonly used in rural areas. Park hopes to follow up with these teachers to encourage them to be leaders in their communities through continuing story book reading with children.

  • In Bulgaria, Eddie Shim, a community development Volunteer and Korean American, is teaching youth in 7-11th grade different physical exercises and routines, while at the same time helping them with goals and questions concerning their health. One of his recent projects aims at promoting sports, Shim coaches a basketball team of local youth.

  • Also in Bulgaria, Jeng-Tyng Hong works as a primary school teacher in a small town of about 2,000 people. She teaches English to faculty and students at the local school, in addition to coaching basketball, putting on theater productions, and helping out wherever she is needed. Currently, she is working on an HIV/AIDs educational film with her students.

Over the years, Peace Corps has benefited from the significant contributions of many Asian/Pacific Americans who have served as Volunteers and staff. Elaine Chao was the first Asian-American director of the Peace Corps, serving from 1991-92. Chao can be credited with many institutional improvements, including the initiation of Peace Corps programs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Notable Asian-American Volunteers include U.S. Representative Mike Honda (El Salvador 1965-67), a member of Congress from California, and William Wong (Philippines 1964-68), an author and journalist published in the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner.

As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world. Historically, over 195,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. Applications to serve in the Peace Corps have increased 16 percent this past year, the largest boost in the last five years. Currently, 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in 76 countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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