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US Peace Corps to return to Sri Lanka

The United States and Sri Lanka have renewed an agreement to re-establish a Peace Corps programme in Sri Lanka through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding at the Education Ministry yesterday.

US Embassy’s Charge d’affairs Robert Hilton said they were humbled by the level of support shown during the last two years since the talks on the reinstatement of the peace corps resumed.

“Today represents a renewal not a new agreement,” he said adding that youth mastering the English language would significantly enhance Sri Lanka’s economic opportunities.

Peace Corps’ efforts in Sri Lanka will focus on English language education. Once in Sri Lanka, volunteers are to undergo three months of comprehensive cultural, language and technical training before they are given their assignments to serve for two years.The first 25 Peace Corps Volunteers are scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka in late 2019.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said it was Sri Lanka who extended an invitation to the US Peace Corps to return to Sri Lanka. He thanked the Prime Minister for his initiative to reinstate the programme. Education Ministry Secretary Sunil Hettiarachchi said nearly 49% of students who sat for the G.C.E Ordinary Level Examination last year had failed English which was a worrying sign.

Hence, this programme, he said will support the development of capacity of the English language teachers in Sri Lanka and the programme’s volunteers will be accommodated in secondary schools, local English support centres and vocational training centres.

Peace Corps volunteers live and work alongside the people they serve, collaborating with local government, schools, small businesses and entrepreneurs to create community based projects that address local development priorities across many sectors. Earlier this year, acting Peace Corps Director Sheila Crowley and Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana signed an agreement to re-establish the programme in Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives Atul Keshap witnessed the signing at Temple Trees.

From 1962 to 1998, more than 370 Peace Corps volunteers served in Sri Lanka, working in education, health and youth development.

The programme was closed in 1998. Peace Corps’ Crisis Corps, now Peace Corps Response, returned to Sri Lanka to support relief efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. In 2016, the Government of Sri Lanka invited Peace Corps to return to work and assist in furthering the country’s development goals.