History of the Peace Corps in Bangladesh
Peace Corps Volunteers first began serving in the area that is now Bangladesh when it was known as East Pakistan, and the Peace Corps remained active in the area throughout the 1960s. Tensions that had existed between East and West Pakistan for years came to a head in 1970 when the central government declared that Urdu would be the official language of all Pakistan, thereby supplanting East Pakistan’s native Bangla. In the midst of political tension and impending war, the Peace Corps had to close its program in East Pakistan. At the end of the war of independence in 1971, East Pakistan declared itself an independent country called Bangladesh.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Bangladesh
The Peace Corps did not reestablish a program in the area till November 1998, when the first group of Volunteers to serve in Bangladesh arrived in Dhaka, the capital. With a tremendous need to improve the English language skills of Bangladeshi teachers, Volunteers initially worked exclusively as English teachers at primary-teacher training institutes. Two more groups of Volunteers arrived over the next three years, and Peace Corps/Bangladesh was beginning to establish its roots when the events of September 11, 2001, created concern for the safety of Americans living abroad. When political tensions heated up prior to Bangladesh’s parliamentary elections in October 2001, Peace Corps/Bangladesh decided to suspend operations. But less than a year later, in August 2002, a small group of Volunteers arrived to restart the program. This group was assigned to work in youth development centers, which provide vocational training to adolescents and young adults from disadvantaged rural and urban backgrounds. These Volunteers were free to develop projects based on community needs. Because of the tremendous demand for teachers of English as a foreign language, many of the Volunteers started TEFL classes at the youth development centers. For that reason, Peace Corps/Bangladesh nowprovides all Volunteers with TEFL training, though Volunteers in this area remain free to work with center staff to develop projects that reflect their own knowledge and skills as well as community needs. In February 2003 and August 2003, two more groups of Volunteers arrived, with about half the Volunteers in each group assigned to community development through youth development centers and half assigned as TEFL teachers at government secondary schools. In addition to their primary assignments, Volunteers in Bangladesh have plenty of opportunities to establish secondary projects in their communities, including working with community health programs and other worthwhile programs established by the many aid organizations that operate in Bangladesh. In 2004, Peace Corps/Bangladesh plans to initiate an environmental health project.