By Jung Sung-ki
Former U.S. volunteers who served in South Korea plan to form an association with the aim of further improving relations between the two countries, a diplomatic source said Thursday.
In a bid to support the plan, the government will help the planned visit to Seoul by a group of Peace Corps volunteers who served here between 1966 and 1981, he said.
``As I know, a group of former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Korea formed a small informal group based in Washington, D.C. in 2000, and began work to create a formal association one or two years ago,'' the source said, asking not to be named. ``The association is expected to help promote understanding and exchanges between the two countries.''
President Lee Myung-bak, who puts top priority on ties with the United States, also has a keen interest in the group's activities and future contributions to Korea-U.S. relations, he added.
During his summit with President George W. Bush in mid-April, Lee expressed thanks for the Peace Corps' contributions to South Korea in a speech to a gala event hosted by the Korea Society, a U.S.-based non-governmental group devoted to promoting Korea-U.S. ties.
The President presented the 2008 James A. Van Fleet Award to the approximately 2,500 Peace Corps volunteers who served in Korea.
The award is given to prominent Korean and American individuals or organizations for outstanding contributions to the Korea-U.S. relationship. Kevin O'Donnell, the first country director of Peace Corps Korea, received the award on behalf of the volunteers.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, more than 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers served in the country to help teach English in provincial areas and provide medical, agricultural and industrial support to Koreans.
The assistance provided by these volunteers, at a critical period in Korean history, helped to cement Korea-U.S. ties, a ministry official said.
Kathleen Stephens, the incoming U.S. ambassador to Seoul, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea from 1975 to 1977. She taught English at a middle school in Yesan, South Chungcheong Province.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Christopher Hill, who now serves as chief American nuclear envoy to the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, worked as a Peace Corps member in Cameroon from 1974 to 1976.
Established in 1961, the Peace Corps is an independent U.S. federal agency aimed at helping promote world peace and friendship by dispatching volunteer workers to developing nations and other countries in need.
Peace Corps volunteers work with governments, schools, non-profit organizations and entrepreneurs in the areas of education, health, HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.
To date, more than 190,000 Peace Corps members have participated in volunteer activities in 139 countries. Currently, the agency works in more than 70 countries around the world. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.