Written by Ben Kangwa
On 21st October, 2011, the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr. Michael C Sata swore in thirty five Americans as Peace Corps environment volunteers at State House. The event was also witnessed by the American Ambassador to Zambia, Mr. Mark C Storella.
President of the Republic of Zambia,
Mr. Michael C Sata
At the ceremony, President Sata praised the volunteers for what he called “exemplary work” and expressed thanks to the Zambians who he said had hosted the volunteers in their communities. The swearing in ceremony coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the work of the Peace Corps in the world.
The new volunteers underwent several weeks of comprehensive cross-cultural language and technical training through Peace Corps. They have been trained and communicate in Bemba, Chisoli, Kaonde, Lunda, Luvale, Mambwe, Nyanja, Nsenga, Tonga and Tumbuka where they will complete 27 months of service.
Peace Corps activities are more vital than ever in a country like Zambia. They work in emerging and essential areas such as education, youth and community development, business development, environmental and agricultural conservation, health and HIV/AIDS awareness, animal and wildlife preservation, water sanitation and wildlife preservation and information technology.
In Washington DC, Peace Corps Director Mr. Aaron Williams and United States Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Ms. Judith McHale early this year hosted a reception in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps at the Department of State.
Zambian Ambassador to the United States of America, Mrs. Sheila Siwela attended the function and was among ambassadors from 139 countries that have hosted Peace Corps volunteers. Others were returned Peace Corps volunteers and members of Congress.
At the event, Secretary of State Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a video message, thanking those who have served in the Peace Corps and honoring the mission of the Peace Corps that is “ to promote world peace and friendship.”
Fifty years ago, then Presidential candidate, Mr. John F. Kennedy challenged a crowd of students at the University of Michigan and asked, “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana?
“Technicians or engineers – how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”
The students answered that call with an unexpected enthusiasm, and many credit those students in 1960 with helping to convince Kennedy to develop what would become the Peace Corps.
The three goals of Peace Corps are one, to help the people of interested countries meet their needs for trained men and women. Two, helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served. And lastly, helping to promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.
BACKGROUND OF THE PEACE CORPS IN ZAMBIA
In Zambia, the background of the Peace Corps dates back to 1991, when the Government of the Republic of Zambia requested Peace Corps assistance.
A country assessment in early 1992 found that the majority of people had no access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation facilities and adequate nutrition inputs.
With this background, a country agreement was signed on September 14, 1993 and plans for a water and sanitation project were developed.
The first twelve water and sanitation trainees arrived in February of 1994. Since then, the program has grown quickly to include projects in community health and rural aquaculture, expanded again in 2001 to encompass an income, food and environment project.
The Peace Corps in Zambia is the largest post in Africa and receives approximately 80 new Volunteers each year. In the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, the Peace Corps in Zambia received more than US$3.8 million from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to support a new stand alone project hosted by the Ministry of Health.
The first group of PEPFAR-funded Volunteers arrived in May 2005 and worked with Neighborhood Health Committees to mobilize communities in the fight against HIV/AIDS. PEPFAR-funded Volunteers have continuously been requested to serve in Zambia since then.
Apart from being one of Africa’s largest Peace Corps post, it is also one the Region’s planned highest growth posts. For instance, in the FY 2011, the Peace Corps in Zambia’s request for Volunteers increased by 36 per cent and in FY 2012 the request for Volunteers increased by 70 per cent.
Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Zambia in 1994, more than 1,000 Volunteers have served in Zambia, making the country one of the larger Peace Corps programs in Africa. At present, a total number of 241 Volunteers are working in rural areas.
Currently, the Peace Corps in Zambia is involved in the following projects:
- Rural Aquaculture promotion (RAP)
- Rural Education Development (RED)
- Linking Income, Food and the Environment (LIFE)
- Health and HIV/AIDS
RURAL AQUACULTURE PROMOTION (RAP)
In the Rural Aquaculture Promotion (RAP) Project, volunteers help the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to develop rural fish-farming projects that would improve livelihoods in rural communities.
After determining rural farmers’ needs and resources, the Volunteers provide technical assistance in establishing dams, furrows, fishponds and integrated agriculture. In addition, to providing an excellent source of nutrition for rural families. Surplus fish and agricultural products are sold to provide substantial supplementary income.
Volunteers also provide training in small agribusiness skills to assist farmers in applying a business orientation toward their farming activities. Additionally, they help build the organizational development capacity of fish farming activities.
Since the arrival of the first RAP Volunteers in November 1996, this collaboration has been so successful that the Department of Fisheries invited the Peace Corps to assume the leading role in aquaculture development in the country.
LINKING INCOME, FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT (LIFE)
In 2004, the Zambia Wildlife Authority through the Forestry Department invited Peace Corps/Zambia to join a new environmental initiative to help communities living near protected forests gain an economic stake and a voice in managing protected areas under the Linking Income Food and Environment (LIFE) Project.
Environment Volunteers also help community members develop group decision- making skills and educate them about environmental and conservation issues. They work with communities to improve natural resource management techniques, improve food security, establish environmental education initiatives and seek to create links in the community between education and natural resource management.
RURAL EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT (RED)
In education, the Rural Education Development (RED) Volunteers work in six provinces to support the Ministry of Education staff to improve the quality of, and access to, education in all types of schools. Together with their counterparts, Volunteers assist in implementing educational initiatives such as the “Learning at Taonga Market” interactive radio instruction program. “Taonga Market” also enhances teacher trainings and other continuing professional development opportunities as well as school monitoring visits, community literacy classes, school clubs for HIV/AIDS, girls empowerment and environmental awareness.
The Volunteers also engage with interested rural communities to develop and support their education infrastructure through sensitization and training of parent community school committees.
In 2008, the Peace Corps in Zambia combined the Community Action for Health Project and the HIV/AIDS Project (HAP) to form a new comprehensive rural health project.
Being a rural based project, Volunteers work to facilitate the formation and training of community based organizations that spear-head the planning, implementation and sustainable management of community led intervention in malaria, maternal health, child health and nutrition, HIV/AIDS mitigation and management.
In all these activities, Volunteer Leaders who are typically third and fourth year University students coordinate Peace Corps efforts at the Provincial level in Mansa, Kasama, Chipata, Serenje, Kalomo and Solwezi.
They are critical to the smooth operation of Peace Corps in Zambia and most importantly, post’s ability to provide a safe and secure environment for Volunteers and play an essential role in Volunteer support and site development.
After 28 years of service in Zambia, the Peace corps is still more vital than ever and still growing. From John F. Kennedy’s inspiration there is still an urgency devoted to world peace and friendship and volunteers who continue to help individuals build a better life for themselves, their children, their community and their country.
The author is Press Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington DC.