Promoting peace through the Peace Corps

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Master of Ceremonies Richard Silverberg welcomed everyone to the regular Sunday meeting of the Pattaya City Expats Club on March 13, 2011 at Amari Resort’s Tavern by the Sea. After the usual opening announcements, Richard called on fellow member Richard Smith to introduce the guest speaker Pat Koester, a former US Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. Before being introduced, Gary Hacker, one of the US Embassy Wardens for Pattaya, announced that Pat is also taking on the mantle of a US Embassy Warden.

Pat started by mentioning that some 50 years ago, US President John F. Kennedy challenged many college students to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration, the US Peace Corps was established 50 years ago charged with the mission of helping: (1) the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; (2) promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Pat with 3 Thai tsunami survivors whose small medicinal herb business had been totally destroyed in the tsunami.Pat with 3 Thai tsunami survivors whose small medicinal herb business had been totally destroyed in the tsunami.

Pat became a Peace Corps volunteer some 40 years ago. She pointed out that the qualifications for a volunteer as being a US citizen at least 18 years of age; but she mentioned that there was no upper age limit.  She also pointed out that although the Peace Corps is in effect a government foreign aid agency, its emphasis is on people rather than money.

As a volunteer, she came to Thailand for two years to teach English at a high school in Ayutthaya; the normal term of service for a volunteer.  Back then, Thailand did not have the transportation infrastructure it now has; so she had to use the train to get to Ayutthaya. Pat showed a picture of the high school pointing out that today it has a substantially larger campus then it did when she taught there.

This week’s speaker, member Pat Koester, relates to fellow PCEC members how she was inspired by President John Kennedy’s call to the youth of the US to serve their country in the cause of peace. This resulted in the establishment of the US Peace Corps.This week’s speaker, member Pat Koester, relates to fellow PCEC members how she was inspired by President John Kennedy’s call to the youth of the US to serve their country in the cause of peace. This resulted in the establishment of the US Peace Corps.

Pat gave a few highlights of her time teaching including going out each morning at 8 a.m. to sing the Thai National Anthem as the Thai flag was raised. Pat says she still remembers all the words. Although when she started, the Peace Corps practice was to actively teach in the school, today the emphasis is on working with the teachers to help them improve rather than conducting classes themselves.

In 2004, Pat said she returned to the Peace Corps to assist the Thai victims of the tsunami that destroyed many Thai villages along the Andaman coast. She showed a map of Thailand pointing out the fishing village where she was assigned to work that had been destroyed. She showed pictures of the housing that had been constructed for the villagers and her quarters, which were very basic. She also mentioned that as Peace Corps volunteers, they were prohibited by the Peace Corps from driving any motorized vehicle so they used a bicycle to get around.

Pat described her work as being related to micro-finance – establishing revolving fund loans for individuals and groups that couldn’t qualify for other type of financing. During this 6 month assignment, much of her time was spent in meeting with villagers to identify folks that could qualify for a loan and to teach them about saving money and the need to repay their loans.

Pat also mentioned her assistance in getting a Peace Corp grant to build a structure to dry medicinal herbs for an elderly group of women. She explained that these women, before the tsunami, had planned to grow and package medicinal herbs. They had already obtained plans from a university for the drying structure, but needed the grant funds to build it.

After that, Pat served up country as a Community Development Training Coordinator for other Peace Corps volunteers.  She said that the training emphasized the need for the volunteers to learn about Thailand and the area where they were assigned. Also, the importance of meeting with the people and government officials with the goal of getting them to identify their needs and what they wanted to do. This often takes up most of the first year of the two year assignment. After this period, the volunteers’ objective would be to help the Thais find the resources they needed.

Pat concluded by mentioning her other activities in Thailand between her stints with the Peace Corps such as during the Vietnam War, working with the USO (United Service Organizations) at U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, which was a large military base used by US Forces.

After Pat answered several questions, Richard Silverberg updated everyone on upcoming events and called on “Hawaii” Bob Sutterfield to conduct the always informative and sometimes humorous Open Forum, where questions are asked and answered about living in Thailand, Pattaya in particular.

The three ladies who survived the tsunami, but lost their business, process the herbs which have been dried in their new herb dryer.The three ladies who survived the tsunami, but lost their business, process the herbs which have been dried in their new herb dryer.