Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Michael John Wanigasekera, September 13, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Secondary projects

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Partial Transcript: Hello. Today is September 13, 2020. My name is Jay Sztuk. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji in 1974. And today, I'm interviewing--I'm continuing an interview with Michael John Wanigasekera who served in Cambodia as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the education program in 2013 through 2015.

Segment Synopsis: Peace Corps worked in conjunction with Michelle Obama on the Let Girls Learn Initiative. The initiative was to promote greater educational opportunities for girls. The Peace Corps ran several camps in Cambodia for girls and boys to promote this idea of educational equality. Another of Wanigasekera's projects was a school garden.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Appearance; Attitudes; Challenging; Changes; Community involvement; Counterparts; Education programs; Empowerment; Encouragement; Family; Funding; Gender discrimination; Grants; Identity; Let Girls Learn Initiative; Male-dominated society; Marriage; Michelle Obama; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Perspectives; Siblings; Skin whitening; Social media; Support; Sustainability; Training

Subjects: Finance; Food security; Health; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Cambodia; United States. Agency for International Development; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Cambodia
Map Coordinates: 11.55, 104.916667
00:12:42 - Coming home

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Partial Transcript: Did you have an opportunity to extend and did you consider extending?

Segment Synopsis: Rather than trying to extend his Peace Corps service, Wanigasekera returned home and joined VISTA. By the end of his Peace Corps service, the local people had accepted Wanigasekera as an American.

Keywords: Americans; Changes; Differences; Diversity; Extensions; Local people; Locals; Outsiders; Returning; Support; Traveling; Vermont; Volunteers in Service to America

Subjects: Emotions; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Cambodia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Vermont
Map Coordinates: 44, -72.7
00:14:59 - Reflection on Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: Any other, uh, any other, um, parts of your experience there in the village that you'd like to share with us?

Segment Synopsis: Wanigasekera notes that each Volunteer's experience is unique. Wanigasekera found his service very challenging emotionally. Wanigasekera feels that the sacrifices of Volunteers goes largely ignored in the U.S. Military service is acknowledged but not Peace Corps service.

Keywords: Altruism; Children; Coming home; Commitments; Community; Deaths; Differences; Illness; Motivation; Readjustment; Returning; Sickness; Third Goal; Traveling; White privilege

Subjects: Culture shock; Emotions; International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Cambodia; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:21:00 - Advice about joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Now, I, I know that, you know, Peace Corps has always tried to, uh, recruit a diverse, uh, you know--a diversity of people and for Volunteers but the percentage has always been very low. Um, what, what would--how would you advise somebody in, in your own community, your, your family, or you know somebody else with your background about, uh, joining Peace Corps?

Segment Synopsis: Wanigasekera feels that Peace Corps service is right only for certain individuals - those that are willing to make unsung sacrifices. Peace Corps Volunteers can dispel inaccurate stereotypes about other people. Making friends makes us more secure.

Keywords: Changes; Expectations; Prepared; Safety; Stereotypes; Third Goal

Subjects: Friendship; Older people; Peace Corps (U.S.); Vietnam; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Map Coordinates: 16, 108
00:26:41 - Racism

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. Have you been in touch with other, um, Volunteers from, from your group, especially other Volunteers of color and discussed some of these issues with them?

Segment Synopsis: Wanigasekera compares his reaction to racism while in the Peace Corps with his reaction to racism in the U.S. In Wanigasekera's village, people were prejudiced out of ignorance. Americans don't have that excuse.

Keywords: Awareness; Cohorts; Conversations; Differences; Prejudice; Resources; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Subjects: Minorities; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Cambodia; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:28:18 - Volunteers in Service to America

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about your VISTA service. You, you went to Vermont and what did you do there?

Segment Synopsis: Wanigasekera worked with disadvantaged youth during his VISTA service.

Keywords: Activities; Adjustment; Cell phones; Challenging; Community involvement; Diversity; Grants; Poverty; Third Goal; Vermont; Young people

Subjects: Schools; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Volunteers in Service to America.

GPS: Vermont
Map Coordinates: 44, -72.7
00:32:49 - Future plans

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Partial Transcript: You completed your Peace Corps service and VISTA. What, what's next?

Segment Synopsis: Eventually, Wanigasekera would like to work for a nonprofit organization.

Keywords: Jobs

Subjects: Careers.; Nonprofit organizations; Occupations.; Professions.; Work.