The problem of achieving peace amidst the tensions and dangers of a nuclear age occupies the mind of much of the human race, yet few within it discover a useful way to contribute. In reaffirming the essential community of interest of all ordinary people, regardless of creed or nationality, the PEACE CORPS Volunteers belong to that small but growing fraternity who by their individual efforts do make a difference.
Recognizing that the PEACE CORPS depends entirely upon the quality of its Volunteers, the screening process is rigorous. More than 70,000 Americans have volunteered. Less than 10 per cent have been accepted as trainees and of these some 16 per cent have been selected out during training.
The first Asian contingent arrived in the Philippines on October 12, 1961. By mid-1963 some 1,400 Volunteers were serving in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Ceylon, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and the Philippines. They represented a cross-section of urban and rural America. The youngest was 18 and the oldest a 76-year-old water supply engineer working in Pakistan.
A few were married couples, but most were single men and women in the early summer of their lives, who had come to unknown countries to learn and share with unknown peoples their energy and technical skills.
Tasks performed by Volunteers in Asia reflect the wide spectrum of middle-level, and sometimes advanced-level, skills requested by respective governments. Nurses, doctors, and laboratory technicians came to help staff district hospitals, rural clinics and leprosaria in Sarawak, Malaya and four other Asian countries. Mechanics have taught repair of vehicles in Afghanistan and of farm machinery in India. Instructors of vocational agriculture have been at work in Thailand. Mathematics teachers have been in Ceylon and athletic coaches in Indonesia. Engineers have built roads in North Borneo and schools in Nepal.
In the Philippines, the 628 Volunteers were measured against the demanding earlier example of the "Thomasites" who arrived in 1901 to found the public school system. Crossing the Pacific after the Battle of Manila in a converted cattle ship, the transport "Thomas," they journeyed often by carabao cart, banca and on foot to start the schools that became a mainstay of democracy in the Republic. The PEACE CORPS Volunteers, serving mostly as teachers aides in English to strengthen that public school system, are proving worthy successors to those intrepid pioneers.
Far more consequential than these technical contributions are the difficult-to-measure achievements. By choosing as Volunteers to share the lot of their fellow workers in each country, economic and status barriers have been minimized. In the process of jointly tackling the problems that must be solved for progress, the Volunteers and their hosts discover the human interdependence and mutuality of satisfaction that must provide the personal basis for an enduring peace.
In electing the UNITED STATES PEACE CORPS IN ASIA to receive the 1963 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes their voluntary service to the cause of peace and humanity in a direct and personal way.
While the Award cites specifically the accomplishments of "persons in Asia," the Board of Trustees also commends the PEACE CORPS Volunteers serving in the Near East, Africa and Latin America.
During his historic inauguration address President Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
Since then President Kennedy has said that the PEACE CORPS is the clearest fulfillment of his inaugural challenge.
But, for Asia, President Kennedy's statement should have a familiar ring. This was the great challenge which President Magsaysay made to your country during his presidency.
And both Presidents Magsaysay and Kennedy echoed the words of Dr. Jose Rizal who once said: ". . . what do you do for the country that gave you your existence, that gives you your life and provides you with knowledge?"
The patterns of history become strongly interwoven when we recall the words of the first PEACE CORPS Volunteer to die in Asia. Before his death he wrote a Filipino friend: "Try, before you die, to do one thing that is immortal."
In the work of the PEACE CORPS Volunteers in Asia, we see the bold ideas of great men transformed into the practical realities of voluntary service to the cause of peace and humanity in a direct and personal way.
Events like these occur in history because a man like President Kennedy had confidence in the capacity for good in the people of the United States. President Magsaysay had the same confidence in the Filipino people.
These men also had the courage to withstand the critics who distrust any new venture which relies on lofty and idealistic goals. The PEACE CORPS, too, faced these critics who labeled us the "Kiddie Corps" and the "Children's Crusade." But we had the people on our side and that turned the tide.
President Magsaysay succeeded for many reasons, but one of the most important was because he refused to direct government from behind a large desk in a capital city and through subordinates more interested in their own advancement than in the goals of their government and the wishes of the people. We try to run the PEACE CORPS the same way.
It was in this spirit that our Volunteers came to Asia not only to teach and help, but to learn and grow.
We came to Asia because the Asians in 10 countries asked us to come. We have not asked for diplomatic immunities and privileges and would not accept them if they were offered. We work under Asian leadership and under Asian laws. We are participating in Asian plans, and not some imported idea which someone thinks is good for Asians.
The Volunteers speak the Asian languages. They eat Asian foods. They live at Asian standards. They work with Asian counterparts. They participate by helping, not talking. And we learn by helping, not observing.
In allowing us to participate in your struggles, you have helped us to realize that we in the United States were in danger of losing our way among the television sets and supermarkets of our affluent society. Just because those nearest to us were well cared for, we assumed that those far from us were too. We thought our struggle was over.
Now many of us have come to realize that the American revolution is a continuing revolution. It will not be over until all peoples, everywhere, enjoy freedom and prosperity; not over until no child goes hungry; not over until each man has the right to practice the religion of his choice; not over until the last vestiges of colonialism and racial prejudice are gone; and not over until the peace that men like Rizal and Magsaysay glimpsed becomes a reality.