Peace Corps Director Visits Volunteers in Mongolia

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2005 – Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez visited Mongolia last week, where he met with volunteers and staff and discussed Peace Corps\' program with government officials.

"The future of the Peace Corps in Mongolia is very promising due in great part to the hospitality and welcoming spirit of the Mongolia people," stated Director Vasquez. "Our success has been possible because of the productive collaboration between the Peace Corps and the Mongolia government, evidenced by the fact that the Peace Corps/Mongolia staff is currently training the largest group of volunteers in the history of this program."

Continually improving education is a high priority for the Mongolian government. Thus, Peace Corps education volunteers are aiding efforts to further the study of English as a second language in Mongolian schools, as the school systems work to provide alternative language training beyond Russian. Early in his trip, Director Vasquez met with Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Prime Minister Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj and Minister of Education Puntsag Tsagaan, in addition to U.S. Ambassador Pamela Slutz. Education and language training was of great interest during many of these discussions.

"The Mongolian government has determined that English is the foreign language that will best allow Mongolians to communicate with the rest of the world," said Prime Minister Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj.

Director Vasquez witnessed the accomplishments of education volunteers during a visit with Peace Corps volunteer Annika Ericksen. Ericksen teaches English as a foreign language at the 10 Year School in her host community. She is also working with her students and neighbors to establish a reforestation project that will help reverse the damaging effects of over-farming in the area. Desertification and deforestation are major concerns in Mongolia, where much of the nation\'s few arable lands have been overcultivated and are no longer fit for agriculture. Ericksen\'s project will help restore vitality to the lands near her community and will eventually provide fertile soil for farming.

After spending time in Ericksen\'s host village, Director Vasquez joined several Peace Corps volunteers, trainees, and staff members for a traditional Mongolian lunch in a ger camp, a community of felt tents that many Mongolians call home. The group dined while listening to traditional music and throat-singing, including a final performance by Peace Corps volunteer Doug Smith. After lunch, Director Vasquez thanked the volunteers and staff for their dedication, hard work and commitment to the people of Mongolia. He also challenged the new trainees—the largest trainee class in Peace Corps Mongolia\'s history—to be as committed and hard-working as their more experienced colleagues.

Later, Director Vasquez met with Peace Corps Volunteer Leader George Economides in the nation\'s capital, Ulaanbaatar. Economides has been an education volunteer in Mongolia for three years. He began his service by teaching English as a foreign language to local students. As one of only two Peace Corps volunteers in the program\'s history to receive a superior score in Mongolian language proficiency, Economides now uses his skills to assist the staff of the Educational Advisory Resource Center (EARC). The EARC provides many programs for Mongolian youth, including exchange programs to allow students to study English in the United States.

"Mongolians are the most open minded, resourceful, patient and flexible people I have ever met," said Economides. "Working with the EARC, I have been given the opportunity to help individuals understand and achieve their goals from children in kindergarten through adults working to gain access to higher education."

To learn more about Mongolia, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go?Where Do Volunteers Go? section.

Since 1961, more than 178,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. 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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