December 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Turkmenistan : 911: Speaking Out: Pioneer Press: Turkmenistan RPCV Dan Mladnick says: Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Turkmenistan: Peace Corps Turkmenistan : The Peace Corps in Turkmenistan: December 23, 2004: Headlines: COS - Turkmenistan : 911: Speaking Out: Pioneer Press: Turkmenistan RPCV Dan Mladnick says: Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-43-253.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.43.253) on Friday, December 24, 2004 - 4:34 pm: Edit Post

Turkmenistan RPCV Dan Mladnick says: Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Turkmenistan RPCV Dan Mladnick says: Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Turkmenistan RPCV Dan Mladnick says: Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Winning the peace takes effort, too

BY DAN MLADNICK

Guest Columnist

In September 1999, my wife, Sarah, and I left our homes and families in the United States to serve in the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan, a predominantly Muslim country in Central Asia. Although we did not know each other at the time, we both entered the Peace Corps believing that we would promote world peace through positive cultural exchange and spread of goodwill.

Our two years of service were met with many ups and downs, but through it all we were treated with a sense of hospitality unfamiliar to most Westerners. Turkmen people consider it a great honor to have guests in their homes. They welcomed us into their homes, offered us their best food and continually refilled our cups with chai (tea) as they talked with us. The longer we were in Turkmenistan and the more chai we drank with local people the more deeply we connected with them.

As our service drew to a close in fall 2001, we were preparing for the difficult goodbyes and thank yous we wanted to say to our host families and local friends. But the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 prevented us from having proper closure. On Sept. 12, Peace Corps quickly grouped all of the volunteers into central locations, a logical move since Turkmenistan borders Afghanistan.

About two weeks later, Peace Corps temporarily closed the program in Turkmenistan and sent us home, which meant that our goodbyes were even more abrupt and difficult than we had envisioned.

When Sarah and I married this past June, we decided to return to Turkmenistan for our honeymoon. This would allow us to show our friends and host families how much they meant to us, and it would finally give us a chance to have proper closure.

We recently returned from our trip to Turkmenistan, which was unsettling in one respect.

It was clear to us that animosity toward President Bush had greatly intensified since our departure. Turkmen people are generally reticent when it comes to politics, but many people we encountered offered negative perceptions about Bush.

One man captured the sentiments of many with whom we spoke when he said: "Bush is a terrorist. Bush wants war against Muslims."

The fact that the people of Turkmenistan truly believe that Bush is recklessly targeting the Muslim world is cause for alarm.

Although the vast majority of Turkmen people are Muslim, they are far from fundamentalist due to the suppression of religion under the Soviet Union and their repressive, dictatorial president since its breakup, Turkmenbashy the Great. For similar reasons, most Turkmen are apolitical.

If these people are expressing a profound hatred toward Bush, imagine what most of the people in the Middle East are feeling.

One of the wonderful things about Peace Corps is that it is an organization that truly succeeds in building bridges between people around the world. Although this takes a lot of time, it is a great way to promote peace and understanding between nations and peoples. In this "War on Terror" with al-Qaida reportedly larger than ever and our country at a constant state of high alert it seems that we need to be forging positive relationships with Muslims around the world, not inspiring hatred in them.

But how can we do this? We could start by putting as much thought, effort and money into peacemaking as we put into national defense.

Imagine if the U.S. Peace Corps were half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps, instead of 4 percent of its size. Imagine if we sent tens of thousands of Americans into Islamic countries with the sole purpose of understanding and respecting local people while assisting in humanitarian efforts.

Although this sounds dangerous and naive at present, it would eventually cultivate meaningful friendships and peaceful coexistence.

Perhaps then we could return to Turkmenistan someday to hear our friends and host families praise our country's global leadership and speak of hope for democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia. That would reassure us that our Peace Corps service helped create true alliances and that our efforts were not undermined by the actions of our government.
Mladnick, who teaches high school in Alexandria, Va., grew up in Forest Lake and received his master's degree from University of Minnesota. He taught at Harding High and Skills For Tomorrow charter school in St. Paul after graduation.





When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.

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Story Source: Pioneer Press

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkmenistan ; 911; Speaking Out

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