In 1954, South Korea was still reeling from the devastation of the Korean War. Its economy was poorer than 2/3 of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and its people had an average life expectancy of 54 years.
In that same year, the International Cooperation Association—USAID’s precursor—developed a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the National University in Seoul. “The Minnesota Project” as it came to be called, facilitated an exchange of medical professors during a critical period of the country’s reconstruction.
The alumni of the Project went on to found hospital departments, build nursing schools, conduct open heart surgeries and kidney transplants. Continued US assistance helped construct Korean hospitals and medical schools. And today, South Korea has six times as many physicians as it did in 1954, many of them who now practice here in the U.S.
Throughout our history, USAID has worked closely with Asian countries, Asian diaspora groups and Asian organizations to help support development and humanitarian assistance missions on the continent.
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan last month, we immediately activated our response teams, delivered nuclear emergency kits and held regular calls with Japanese-American NGOs to hear their thoughts and concerns.
We’ve also begun consultations for a Diaspora Collective Fund in Nepal. Modeled after a mutual fund, contributions from the Nepalese diaspora can be channeled into productive investments for the country’s development.
In 25 countries across Asia, from Kazakhstan to Papua New Guinea, we work to support the success of emerging economies and help address the challenges of hunger and poverty. We do this not just by extending a helping hand, but sharing the hope of the American Dream to people around the world—the mother who eats less so her children can eat more, the girl who risks her life to get an education, the entrepreneur who beats the odds to create a small business that employs his neighbors.
I remember seeing that dream at work in a remote village in South India. When I was in medical school, I volunteered in a poor tribal community. There in a one-room schoolhouse where children who didn't speak our language and who didn't enjoy our freedom from hunger and disease could look up on the wall of their classroom and find inspiration in the portraits of their heroes—Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru—and USAID’s founder John F. Kennedy.
With perseverance, innovative approaches and the support of diaspora communities, we can ensure these children grow up in a safer, freer, more prosperous world.
Dr. Raj Shah is the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).