4 Aug 2017

American Peace Corps celebrates 50 years in Samoa

1:07 pm on 4 August 2017

The American Peace Corps programme is celebrating 50 years in Samoa, proving it's just as popular today as it was back then.

The Peace Corps Director visiting with staff in 2015.

The Peace Corps Director visiting with staff in 2015. Photo: Peace Corps Media Library

Almost 2000 Americans have volunteered their services, since the Peace Corps began working in Samoa in 1967 after a devastating cyclone.

The United States run volunteer program was established by President John F Kennedy in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship.

Peace Corp Samoa country director, Sherry Russell, said the focus was now on education and promoting English literacy in Samoa primary schools.

But over the years they've had a wide focus within communities.

"Some of them were engineers and architects and helped with the construction of the wharf where the ferry departs to the other island, the original airport terminal building, the reclaimed area along the waterfront where the central bank is now, there was some assistance setting up the National Provident Fund," she said.

"Then over the years there have been many many people who've assisted with health and then there have been many teachers."

Sherry Russell said participants served for two years and lived in a Samoan village, with many becoming fluent in the Samoan language and customs.

"One of the things is building relationships and so peace corp volunteers they go out and live in the village and live with people for two years and learn the language. While they provide technical assistance they also build these really strong relationships with Samoans."

George St Clair PCV teacher with two students at Chanel College, Moamoa, (Western) Samoa, 1975.

George St Clair PCV teacher with two students at Chanel College, Moamoa, (Western) Samoa, 1975. Photo: Peace Corps Media Library

Retired Victoria University academic, Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin, said back in his younger days, he worked as a high school teacher alongside fellow Peace Corp workers.

During that time, he formed a singing group with two American teachers, Karen Wess and Robert Fallon.

The three, known as the Samoan Fiafia Trio, cried tears when they were reunited in Samoa for the 50th celebrations this month.

He said back in the old days they sang different songs on the radio and gained a huge following of fans.

"Song about the culture and how important that the changes had to happen as it is natural that people change and cultures change and that we also need to hold onto the things that are good about it," he said.

"I didn't realise I was then prophesying my own future career in New Zealand as a Samoan lecturer."

Galumalemana said he was also struck by just how many volunteers were fluent speakers at the 50th celebrations.

"I'm impressed at the way they care about it and look after the pronounciation of the language and some of them do talk Samoan to the Samoan people because that is just how committed many of them are just to the people here."

He said he still remembered a humourous story about Samoa's old-style toilets.

"When they came here, we had what they called in those days a long drop for a toilet out by the sea, but then the peace corp built what came to be called the peace house, which turned out to be a toilet properly built," he said.

To date more than 1830 peace corp volunteers have worked in Samoa since the program began in 1967.

Sherry Russell said they still got a lot of applicants every year from people wanting to do the peace corp program in Samoa.

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