Joining VIA a few months ago as the new Executive Director has been a wonderful step in completing a circle in my life – from my serving as a volunteer to helping others learn through volunteering in Asia. In 1970, I had alternative service from the US draft during the Indochina Wars, and as a 23 year old, I departed as a Peace Corps volunteer on Pan Am Flight 1, from NYC to Manila Philippines.
For the next three years, I grappled daily with the new culture, language and heat. Constantly I sought to prove myself to as a competent resource in planting of the high-protein legumes, raising of rabbits for food, and maternal health care. In the first three months, I would go to bed each night promising to leave the next morning, only to wake up in the morning and say “Ah, I will give it another day.” Then one day, the cycle stopped.
In the following 30 months, I learned so much from the Filipino people I shared lives with. Their patience with the young American showed me a difference of acceptance, of time, of humility. From hour to hour I would have “min-epiphanies,” of thinking confidently I knew something, only to realize that there were so many ways of knowing.
Volunteerism gave me access to powerful lessons about myself in the world. After Peace Corps, I have committed my life to humanitarian assistance programs across Asia, having worked on programs in thirteen countries of the Asia-Pacific region. In 2000, I served as Peace Corps Country Director in Bangladesh, and had the wonderful closing of the life circle, where I could help mentor young Americans experience [as I had 30 years earlier,] the powerful lessons of themselves in the world.
Today, VIA offers people from the United States and Asia dynamic opportunities to learn and grow from each other. Yet the world is different than it was when I first went on Pan Am Flight 1. Very different than when VIA first started sending volunteers in 1964. Together the friends of VIA – the volunteers, partners, board, alumni, and staff will help make VIA remain the leader in the vital power of volunteerism.
-Michael Bedford, VIA Executive Director