History of the Peace Corps in Micronesia
The Peace Corps program in Micronesia began in 1966. At the program’s peak size in 1968, 700 Volunteers were assigned to Micronesia, which included the Republic of Palau, FSM, Northern Mariana Islands, and the Marshall Islands. The first group of Volunteers taught English at all educational levels, and a cadre of Volunteer legal advisors soon followed. The Volunteer legal advisors assisted the then U.S. trust territory in its quest for independence. In the 1970s, the Peace Corps moved into agriculture, health, community development, and cooperative management projects. The early 1980s saw Volunteers working in water and sanitation, forestry, and fisheries.
The formation of FSM in 1986 resulted in a reassessment of Peace Corps programming, and Volunteer activities were consolidated. Dual assignments were developed, and all Volunteers taught English in primary schools and also worked in other activities specified by their sponsoring state government agency. In the 1990s, the programming strategy moved from state-specific to national projects. Concurrently, programming shifted from being focused on English as a second language to projects in a wide range of technical areas, such as library development, health education, sports development, youth group development, marine resource management, environmental education, watershed management, and small business development.
From 2000–06, Volunteers worked in two main project areas: natural resources conservation and development and youth and community development. Volunteers continued to work in the areas of youth, health, library/reading and technology, marine resources conservation and terrestrial resources conservation. There was also an increased emphasis on cross-sector collaboration between different agencies to respond to social and environmental issues.
Recently, Peace Corps met with more than 80 representatives from the education, environment and health sectors to determine how and where Volunteers could best serve FSM and Palau. As a result, in 2006, Volunteers returned to the classroom to teach English as a second language (TESL) and to work with communities to facilitate environmental education, health education, and community development programs. This project addresses needs in all four FSM states (Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Yap State) and the Republic of Palau.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Micronesia
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers work in either the TESL or education for community development projects. While there are 18 local languages spoken across FSM and Palau, English is the language of government, education, and many professional settings. Lack of English ability is seen as a key factor in a 66 percent drop in enrollment between elementary school and high school and in very low entrance exam scores at the College of Micronesia. In a broader sense, stakeholders note systemic educational challenges with instructional planning, teaching skills, assessment practices, and school-parent communication—areas in which Volunteers also contribute.
To support English instruction and address systemic education issues in a sustainable manner, Volunteers work very closely with the local school staff and leadership as peer observers, demonstration teachers, co-planners, team teachers, and facilitators of informal exchanges.
In addition to Volunteer work at the school, Volunteers are capable and well positioned to support community development and service learning projects, especially as they relate to priorities in health education, environmental education, and youth development. Therefore, the design of the project plan addresses an urgent need for English, while also encouraging Volunteers to work with local community groups and agencies on other community issues.
Micronesia is at a dynamic point in its development history, and Peace Corps/Micronesia is working closely with FSM/Palau leadership to ensure that the Peace Corps program best assists Micronesians in their efforts to become independent and self-reliant.