Palau after 50 years through the eyes of former peace corps volunteers

  22 Jun 2018

Fifty years ago, 1968, a 20-year-old Terry and a 22-year-old Lee Salters, very young couple from United States of America landed in Palau, an island trust territory of United States then with very little knowledge of the island but a whole lot of adventurous spirit.

The two had first six weeks of intense basic Palauan language crash course in Peleliu, to prepare them for the next two years of their new life in Palau.  After that, they were sent to Aimeliik State to begin their two-year service of teaching English language to Aimeliik school children.

“Back then, only two people in the village knew how to speak English.  Now, everyone speaks English,” stated Terry of her impression after 50 years.

Asked what really stands out to them as different from when they were in Palau in 1968, Lee Salter said, “Palau’s independence, Palau’s choice to make its own decisions.” According to Lee, back then people seemed unwilling to challenge government authority.  He assumes it may be left over from previous colonial period under Germany and Japan where Palauans were strongly prohibited from challenging colonial rule.

“We are very impressed and happy to see such strong emphasis on education,” added Terry.  She said the strong push for education here in Palau is very obvious.

Both say that the change is tremendous.  “We almost don’t recognize where we are now.  So much change.”

Terry and Lee Salters spend portion of Thursday visiting the village they lived in for 2 years.  Many of the people they know are gone, most having passed away.  Many of those they taught have either left island or passed away as well.

According to Terry, one of the noticeable change they have seen is the fewer number of school kids. “When we were here, there were a lot of kids.  Now we are told, the whole school only have 40 students,” stated Terry.

Pictures taken in 1968 to 69, show the dramatic changes the community had made in the last 50 years such as the use of small stream for public bath (diong), homes made of wood and tin, wooden boats with cabins made to transport people between states or villages and so much more.

“The place seems smaller now. Back then we used to walk everywhere,” added Lee.  The concrete roads and use of cars have made the place even smaller.

Lee and Terry Salter were part of the second group of Peace Corps volunteers dispatched to Palau.  They both decided to visit Palau after they retired from their careers.  Lee is 73 and Terry is 71 with children and grandchildren. (Leilani Reklai/Editor)