Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Americans Have Landed 1963

"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." John F. Kennedy.

1963 - Mr and Mrs. Don Miller came to our school and were introduced as American Peace Corps. That was the first time we learned to pronounce the word "corps" (not corpse). We were briefed about their work and their global service.

I was with a small group of young students who were interested in meeting them as we were" keen to apply our science, and have hands on experience"". Our sceince techers had encouraged us to join their "4-H Club". Only the Form One and Form Two town students were encouraged to join.

We did not know then we were to learn about farming, the use of changkul, seeds, planting of vegetables and preparation of compost.

But we turned a part of the school compound into a fairly flourishing garden. We were able to harvest vegetables and gave them to our teachers and parents. It was quite a daunting task. This club did not meet only once a week, but every day at 4 p.m. and we worked until about 6 when we knew our parents would worry about our coming home.

By using our "Hands" was more than what we learned.

We learned to be compassionate (heart).

We learned to be healthy.

We learned to think. (head)

That was what 4-H meant. Two of the students in our group went on to become government agricultural officers with degrees. So that was pretty good after about a year of influence under Mr.and Mrs. Miller. I was particularly impressed by the way Mr and Mrs.Miller talk. They were very kind, very keen to teach and very keen to help. They were very good listeners too.

In the middle of the year, our group was taken for a trip to Kanowit. I thought that was a brilliant idea and opportunity. Otherwise we would never have the chance of visiting a rural area. We went by the slow motor launch and had the opportunity of playing soft ball, and visiting the students' garden in SEDAYA. This was a sort of mid term review for the 4-H club leaders. I cannot remember what was exactly said, but I remember one of the students amongst our group was selected to speak. He was very confident and impressive even then. He is today a Professor. Many students were given a chance to speak. This was an interesting two day outing for us.

At the end of the year, we went to have a nice party in the Peace Corps House which was specially built for them for ply wood, attap and hard wood, near the old Airport. That was where I learned to make pop corn balls with caramelised sugar and hang nice baubles on a casaurina "Christmas" tree. Many years later, I went back to see the house and saw that it was almost stripped bare. The walls were all gone and some windows were left. Now it is completely gone.

WE also learned that, after Mr and Miller left, not many Peace Corps volunteers would be in the urban areas as most would be posted to the rural areas of Sarawak like Engkili, Saratok, Kanowit, Kapit,etc and we were sad .

We were enthusiastic and quick learners but on the other hand, many were already setting their aims quite high. Most of the students were keen to be in professions like accountancy, medicine and engineering. None of the boys I knew would become "agricultural extension workers" and none of the girls chose to be " home demonstrators". But I am sure they learned to love gardening. Many were also hopeful for government scholorships. At that time, there were perhaps only one scholarship for agriculture. I was under the impression that town kids did not choose agriculture as their field of study.

When the Millers left, all of us were very sad. As we moved on, no one took over the garden and school also had other objectives in mind. When I went back to the school to teach several years later, a lot of changes had come about and very little land was made available for students to plant.

Almost 45 years later Mr. and Mrs. Miller might be interested in knowing that they had touched lives beyond their imagination. One of the "girls" became the Principal of the Nursing College in Sarawak, several others were nurses, the boys were all professionals (including one professor I mentioned above), many were engineers and several were government officers who played a major role in planning. Our group actually has a pretty good report card in life. We "served" the people.

Only yesterday I read that Pei Ming School in Miri turned a patch of their school grounds into a green sea of vegetables. That is good indeed. Our world is short of food.

2 memories:

Free Bird said...

This is a very informative post.

I never knew that the American Peace Corps had this sort of program.

If only Malaysia has this kind of program like what the Peace Corps has taught you.

I envy you as this is a very rare experience to go through.I doubt anyone my age, or in my generation has ever been exposed to this kind.

Sarawakiana said...

Dear Free Bird,
The American Peace Corps has many different programmes to help the world. Agricultural programmes are just a few of theirs for what was termed under developing and perhaps even developing nations.
In the event that Malaysia became a developed nation, the US no longer felt it necessary to run their Peace Corps programmes here.
Malaysia has its own way of training the younger people like Seberkas, etc. with its own well trained personnel.
The National Service in recent years has been hailed as a great break through in recent years.
I am sure there will be equivalents of Kenneddy's, Gandhi's,Mohammad Yunus's who will help change the world, etc. in Malaysia.


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