A Short History of Peace Corps Training to Malaysia

Peace Corps training programs are labeled by the name of the country and a sequential number. In the early days of the Peace Corps, the number was typically represented by Roman Numerals. Prior to the formation of Malaysia with the union of Malaya and the then British colonies of North Borneo/Sabah and Sarawak, Peace Corps training groups carried the label of "Malaya" or "North Borneo/Sabah and Sarawak." There were six Malaya training programs (Malaya I to VI) and four for the Borneo states (North Borneo/Sarawak I and II and Sabah/Sarawak III and IV). Beginning with Malaysia VII, there were unified Peace Corps training programs for all regions in the new Federation of Malaysia. When the Malaysia Peace Corps program ended the early 1980s, the last group was "Malaysia 103," but there were actually 107 Peace Corps training groups that served in Malaysia: Malaya/Malaysia 1 to 103 and North Borneo/Sarawak I and II and Sabah/Sarawak III and IV.

The early Malaya training programs (Malaya 1 to 6 and Malaysia 7, 11, and 13) were held at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Dekalb, Illinois.  The selection of NIU as the training site for the early Malaya Peace Corps programs was linked to the presence of Professor Norman Parmer, a specialist on Malaya and a faculty member at NIU. Parmer was the first Peace Corps Director (Representative) in Kuala Lumpur from 1961 to 1963. 

The first four PCV groups that went to Borneo (North Borneo/Sarawak I and II and Sabah/Sarawak III and IV) had their training in Hilo, Hawaii. Beginning with Malaya V (Fall of 1963), the NIU groups spent two or three weeks of "transition training" in Hawaii, generally in Waipio Valley or doing practice teaching in local schools before going to Malaysia. There were also parts of two exceptionally large training projects (Malaysia XV and Malaysia XVIII) that had were trained in vocational education at California State University at Los Angeles (Cal State-LA). Malaysia 23 had their training (summer 1969) at migrant labor camp outside of Woodland, California. It was rumored that the newly elected Nixon administration wanted to end "liberal" university-based Peace Corps training (e.g. The University of Hawaii - Hilo) and use cheaper private sector contractors even if they had no knowledge of the Peace Corps or the destination country.

Malaysia 24 in the fall of 1969 was the first group to have in-country training in Malaysia. The shift to in-country training solved many of the problems experienced by prior training programs in the United States. Most importantly, trainees had the opportunity to get to experience Malaysia directly in addition to classroom activities. In country training programs were smaller, and there appears to have been greater continuity of staffing of Malaysians and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. These conditions may have been partially responsible for a reduction in deselection rates to 10 percent or less.

Northern Illinois University at Dekalb 1961-65

The early Malaya training programs (Malaya 1 to 6 and Malaysia 7, 11, and 13) were held at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in Dekalb, Illinois.  The selection of NIU as the training site for the early Malaya Peace Corps programs was linked to the presence of Professor Norman Parmer, a specialist on Malaya and a faculty member at NIU. Parmer was the first Peace Corps Director (Representative) in Kuala Lumpur from 1961 to 1963. The well-known NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies at NIU grew out of the first Peace Corps training programs for Malaya. Here are some photos from the early NIU training programs from the 1960s include Sargent Shriver, university administrators, program staff, and trainees.

Friends of Malaysia is working with the Special Collections and Archives Department of the NIU Library to digitize records from the NIU Malaysia/Malaysia Peace Corps Training Center. This page will be expanded as these records become available.

University of Hawaii Hilo Peace Corps Training Center: 1962-70

Peace Corps training in Hilo, Hawaii began with arrival of 88 trainees in June 1962 bound for the North Borneo/Sarawak. The organizers of this first Hilo Peace Training Program had little knowledge of North Borneo and Sawarak and only a vague idea of what the Peace Corps Volunteers would be doing when they reached their assignments (see here and here). Nonetheless the program was considered to be very successful, and Peace Corps Washington soon issued contracts for two additional training projects in Hilo in 1962. The Hilo Peace Corps Training grew by leaps and bounds over the next few years and become the primary training center for PCVs going to Asia, including Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, India, Korea, Micronesia, Tonga, Soma, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and Fiji. All told, there were 110 training projects and almost 7,000 PCVs trained in Hawaii from 1962 to 1970. During the late 1960s, there were generally about a dozen Peace Corps training projects every year at multiple sites in and around Hilo.

There were many reasons for the success of the Peace Corps Training Center in Hilo, including the enthusiastic support of state officials. The 1963 report on the joint training project for North Borneo and Sarawak II and Thailand IV, includes letters from (and full-page pictures of) the Governor of Hawaii, the president of the University of Hawaii, and the Executive Officer of the County of Hawaii (encompassing the Big Island) praising the success of Peace Corps Training Center. Peace Corps training contracts to the University of Hawaii were announced with fanfare by Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressional representatives. The same report includes clippings of numerous newspaper stories on the comings and goings at the Peace Corps Center and also feature stories about Peace Corps staff and trainees. 

The location of Peace Corps training on the Big Island was partially fortuitus--there was a branch of U of Hawaii there with available staff and facilities, but it soon proved to the defining feature of the program. The rich diversity of people and also the topography, flora, and fauna of Hawaii were thought to similar to Asia. Local schools, government agencies, and people were welcoming of Peace Corps staff and trainees and eager to help. Many trainees had their practice teaching in local schools, were apprenticed to extension agents, and even home stays with families. 

The leadership and staff were also exceptional. John "Jake" Stalker (UH associate professor of history) was the first director of Peace Corps training in Hawaii and oversaw the expansion of Peace Corps training facilities, including a number of abandoned schools in the countryside near Hilo. George Bracher, the longtime medical director of the Peace Corps Training Center, labeled Staker as the "idea man" of Peace Corps training  (see p. 6) who came up with the idea of "transition training" in Waipio Valley where Peace Corps trainees experienced primitive living conditions, including bathing in a local stream and slaughtering barnyard animals.

PCVs who trained on the Big Island affectionally recall the warmth of welcome extended by the local Hawaiian community who frequently invited trainees into their homes and hearts. Following their service, many RPCVs settled in Hawaii, especially on the Big Island, and organized Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Hawaii, one of the most active affiliates of the National Peace Corps Association.  Returned PCVs in Hawaii have been primarily responsible for two very memorable videos of Pace Corps Training in Hawaii.

      • Sending Aloha Abroad (RPCVs Hawaii). This documentary film is the untold story of thousands of American volunteers who lived and trained in Hawaii prior to overseas Peace Corps service, and often settling there after their experience (30 minutes)

      • Peace Corps Training on the Big Island. Returned Peace Corps volunteers and staff created a documentary video about the more than 7,000 young Americans who trained for the Peace Corps on the Big Island from 1962 through 1971. Co-produced by Big Island residents Bill Sakovich and Jim Carr, the 57-minute film is a visual montage of more than a thousand photos with music and voice-over narration by RPCVs. It is an evocative account of how Peace Corps trainees prepared to help others and how the experience affected not only their own lives but those of the local communities and individuals who shared that experience. 

In December 1963, Peace Corps trainees and staff in Hilo erected a monument to the memory of John F. Kennedy at the Peace Corps Training Center. In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps, the Returned PCVs of Hawaii rededicated the JFK Monument and moved it to its current location on the University of Hawaii Hilo campus--see here, here and here (photos by Nick Cerra, PCV Malaysia IX). 

In-Country Training