An American military team and the latest batch of Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Nepal over the weekend. The military is here for a six-day exercise with the Nepal army and participants from Bangladesh, Mongolia and Australia. The exercise is part of longstanding cooperation between the forces on many fronts.
Disaster preparedness has been the focus of several such exercises; this time the program will concentrate on first-aid and treatment of battlefield injuries. While the exercise is running, personnel will also operate a free medical camp for residents of Chitwan and Makwanpur districts, in the country’s southern lowlands.
In addition to military and medical participants, engineers from both armies will reconstruct and refurbish schools in the area.
The Peace Corps volunteers are continuing a tradition started in 1962. President Kennedy proposed the volunteer-based program during his 1960 campaign, and within two years there were over 7,000 volunteers around the world.
The new batch of Nepal volunteers takes the total number to over 4,200 who have served here, despite interruption of the program in 2004 at the height of the country’s Maoist insurrection. The program resumed in 2012, and between 30 and 50 volunteers have come each year since.
US Ambassador Peter Bode greeted the new batch of volunteers at Kathmandu airport. They will take an 11-week training course that includes intensive instruction in the Nepali language and then will be sent, usually in pairs, to districts in western Nepal, which is the least-developed part of the country. Peace Corps projects in Nepal focus on food security and improving the nutritional status of women and children under two.
Peace Corps volunteers and military cooperation represent two extremes of the many aid programs operated by the US government in Nepal. The army joint exercises have limited visibility here, and their benefits will only be felt in the aftermath of a disaster such as an earthquake. The Peace Corps programs, by contrast, are well known and are targeted towards small but measurable improvements in the lives of thousands of Nepalis each year.
Read about current Peace Corps programs and objectives in Nepal at nepal.peacecorps.gov. Those interested in volunteering will also find information at the site.