Panuelo officially requests Peace Corps to reinstate mission in FSM
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Federated States of Micronesia has officially requested the return of the U.S. Peace Corps Mission to the Pacific nation, following up on an announcement made earlier by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
“In so many ways, the Peace Corps’ contributions were the greatest testament to the good and enduring partnership between our two countries,” FSM President David Panuelo said in a Sept. 25 letter to Carol Spahn, chief executive officer of the U.S. Peace Corps.
Panuelo noted that during their tour in the country, the Peace Corps volunteers assisted the FSM government in obtaining grants for social programs and infrastructure projects as well as developing community programs for students.
Since 1966, more than 4,500 volunteers have served in the FSM, the Marshall Islands and Palau but the program was closed in 2018 in these countries.
During a Pacific Islands Forum meeting in July, Harris announced Washington’s plan to bring the Peace Corps Mission back to the Pacific islands. The mission's reinstatement is among the several commitments made by Washington in a bid to head off China's burgeoning presence in the region.
“It is not enough, in my view, for the FSM-U.S. enduring partnership to be strictly viewed under the lens of our Compact of Free Association and regional peace and security;” Panuelo said. “While the compact is important, and regional security is important, what is ultimately just as important—and risks being forgotten—is the everyday well-being of our citizens.”
Panuelo said the reinstatement of the Peace Corps mission will further strengthen the ties between the U.S. and the FSM.
He said the FSM's request for the Peace Corps’ return coincides with the forthcoming U.S.-Pacific Summit, which will focus on people-centered development.
“It is the hope and intention of the FSM government to ensure that the U.S. Peace Corps hears loudly and clearly that the return of their program to the FSM, and to many other Pacific countries, is essential towards strengthening U.S.-Pacific relations,” Panuelo said.
On Sept. 13, Peace Corps Country Director Gini Wilderson announced that volunteers will return to Samoa in February next year.
The Covid -19 pandemic forced the Peace Corps office to pull out all volunteers worldwide in March 2020.
“We are beyond excited to have the volunteers returning and the program back up to full strength,” Wilderson said. “We can’t wait to get back out into villages and into schools to continue our important work together with our Samoan partners.”