Malaysia will launch its own version of the Peace Corps called Yayasan Salam Malaysia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malaysia: Peace Corps Malaysia : Peace Corps in Malaysia: Malaysia will launch its own version of the Peace Corps called Yayasan Salam Malaysia

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, June 27, 2001 - 9:35 pm: Edit Post

Malaysia will launch its own version of the Peace Corps called Yayasan Salam Malaysia

Malaysia will launch its own version of the Peace Corps called Yayasan Salam Malaysia

Anwar's Dream: Asian Civil Society

18 July 1997 (The Asian Wall Street Journal)

KUALA LUMPUR - In the 1960s, hundreds of young American graduates poured into Malaysia as part of President's John F. Kennedy's world-wide Peace Corps programme. They taught English as well as mathematics and science in Bahasa Malaysia, overcoming a severe shortage of teachers.

Their students at one prominent school, the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, included Anwar Ibrahim, soon to emerge as a social activist. He was impressed by the dedication and competence of the volunteers and the way they reveled in a new environment.

Now, little more than a generation later, Malaysia is ready to tap the idealism of its people in a similar venture. Next week it will launch its own version of the Peace Corps called Yayasan Salam Malaysia, an undertaking promoted by that former student, Datuk Seri Anwar, who is acting prime minister these days.

"We now have enough confidence," he says. "Economically, we are quite comfortable. We think we should do more to serve, rather than just being a recipient."

The creation of Salam, as it is known, synthesizes some remarkable aspects of this small Southeast Asian country.

In the past two decades, Malaysia has participated fully in the so-called East Asian Miracle, converting itself from an agricultural economy into a modern industrial state. Farmers' sons who ran around paddy fields as children run profitable companies today.

Presiding over this transformation, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a sometime pricky critic of the West, has groomed as his successor a man who is anything but made in Dr Mahathir's image. Datuk Seri Anwar, in addition to once having been detained without trial for anti-government activities, is an intellectual who thinks beyond staying in power.

In the international debate over "Asian values," to which Datuk Seri Anwar has been an enthusiastic contributor, volunteer work and civic-mindedness have been clearly identified as an enduring strength of the Western, particularly US society. The Peace Corps concept epitomises volunteerism.

Datuk Seri Anwar, who is also finance minister, has spoken often about an approaching Asian renaissance, "a cultural resurgence dominated by a reflowering of art and literature, architecture and music and advancement in science and technology." But in a recent conversation at his office, he complained - mildly - of Malaysia's "near obsession" with wealth and economic growth.

"I think we need a balance," he says. "I think we need to learn from the experience of others."

Six weeks ago, Salam called for volunteers over the age of 18 who are willing to provide their services in three fields - education and training, health and community development - for between six months and two years. They will receive an allowance to cover living expenses.

While those signing up for the minimum period will be dispatched to remote villages in less developed areas of Malaysia, others will be posted abroad. Countries on the list so far include South Africa, Laos and Cambodia, though Cambodia obviously will be put on hold while the current political unrest continues.

Althoug the government has committed $1.5 million to get Salam going, the bulk of the funding is expected to come from the private sector. The organisation's independent board of directors is chaired by Malaysia's representative to the United Nations, who is assisted by young professionals and others with a track record of community service.

The government promises to confine its role to advice and support. And it says that projects undertake by Salam will have no connection with official aid programs.

To almost everybody's surprise, about 900 Malaysians - many more than expected - registered initially as "serious" participants. They represent the country's three main ethnic groups - Malay, Chinese and Indian - with 80% categorised as young. A couple are in their millionaires in their early 30s who have made their money in business.

While Datuk Seri Anwar sees voluntarism as a universal value he readily acknowledges that the inspiration for Salam comes from the US. None of the similar attempts by East Asian countries, including the government-supported Singapore International Foundation, is on a scale that matches Malaysian ambitions.

Besides, most examples of volunteerism in Malaysia are based on the village, which is systematically being bulldozed in the name of progress. Feasts and funerals are organised by volunteers, who also build houses for the poor and perform other useful tasks.

That sort of tradition has long existed in Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, "but we are losing it with urbanisation and modernisation," say Datuk Seri Anwar. "Some of the traditional features and characteristics should be kept."

On top of that, Salam will seek to transcend "tribalism", by asking Malaysians to go beyond their community and give more than their spare time. This is new territory.

Singapore diplomat and scholar Tommy Koh, though a proponent of "Asian values," nevertheless lauds the US for its spirit of voluntarism and private contributions to educational and charitable institutions. "In Singapore, only one person in 10 does volunteer work," he wrote in 1994. "But more than 80 million Americans" - almost one in three - "donate time to a cause."

Malaysia's initiative, no matter what the outcome, is significant beyond its proposed scope. In time, it could help change the perception of East Asia as an increasingly prosperous but rather selfish region.

In the past, most regional countries have been content to focus on internal development and let the US take care of the world's problems. The region simply hasn't shared humanitarian burdens.

Particularly in the post-Cold War era, man-made crisis have challenged the international community and its institution, with mounting demands on the UN for peacekeeping operations and assistance to refugees. East Asia has looked the other way, when rising income levels would suggest that at least it dig into its collective pocket.

Morton I. Abramowitz, a former US ambassador who is acting president of the International Crisis Group, noted last year that Western donor nations are turning inward and suffering from compassion fatigue. "It might be said, perhaps unfairly," he added, "that East Asian countries, with the exception of Japan, are suffering from compassion deficit disorder."

Over time, non-governmental organisation in the region - whether focused on human rights, the environment or labour conditions - should influence governments to adopt more humanitarian policies, as they have in the West. Anything that promotes civil society - and Salam surely does - is a welcome addition.

So, is the primary purpose of Salam to assist others, or to inculcate the spirit of voluntarism?

"They go together," says Datuk Seri Anwar. "That sort of experience will be very enriching for the young and very educational. At the same time, they will be able to help - and it will be meaningful help."

By Anonymous ( on Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - 5:08 pm: Edit Post

I have registered as Yayasan Salam member since my secondary school. Now im doing diploma in IT. When i read NUR magazine and read about other person experience, im so excited to know more about Yayasan Salam. And im interested as volunteer. My problem is the main website cannot be used. How can i get more information and from who???


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