Blantyre, Malawi — It is an undisputable fact that most Malawians and Africans cherish the dream of migrating to the United States of America to work and live there permanently. The United States is surely a country in which each individual is guaranteed the opportunity of achieving his or her dreams. America is also described with many adjectives such as the world's First Democracy, the world leader, the world police and many others.
While many young women and men believe that the United States of America is the earthly paradise, which they should belong to, some intelligent, hardworking and selfless youthful Americans believe that developing countries like our own Malawi can become a paradise on earth too.
As young Malawians seek visas to travel to the US, the young Americans hunt for opportunities that can enable them fly to the Warm Heart of Africa to join hands with forces of development in the fight against illiteracy, poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Thanks to President John F. Kennedy's administration for establishing the Peace Corps in 1963 through which young Americans would volunteer to help developing countries with development problems. As a result of the nation-building policy, young Americans are able to come to Malawi as Peace Corps.
The contributions of Peace Corps in the fields of health, education, agriculture and the environment are very commendable. This is why President Bakili Muluzi invited them to his residence in Blantyre as they celebrated the Peace Corps' 40th Anniversary celebrations on March 8, this year.
Without mincing his words, President Muluzi thanked the Peace Corps Volunteers for their positive contribution in the social and economic development of Malawi.
"I want you to know that we are also greatly indebted to the United States Government and the Peace Corps Agency for making sustainable contributions in the areas of education, health and HIV/AIDS and the economic development of our country," said Muluzi.
He told the Peace Corps that he believes that education is the key to any meaningful development and thanked them for helping the government in the improvement of the quality of education in the country.
" It is for this belief and conviction that my government introduced free primary education to give opportunity to even very poor children. The outcome has been miraculous in that the primary school pupil enrolment has almost tripled. In 1994 the primary school pupil enrolment was 1.9 million and it is now at almost 4 million. As a result, we need about 10, 000 teachers," said Muluzi.
And he continued, "We have also increased access to secondary schools through construction of more secondary schools. These initiatives have however brought the need for more teachers as well as teaching and learning materials," observed Muluzi.
He expressed his gratitude to the volunteers who are fully supporting government's initiative through their participation and involvement in secondary schools, especially in rural areas. He said that government still depends on Peace Corps Volunteers to assist it in achieving quality education through skills transfer and improving teaching and learning resources.
Muluzi also appreciated the role the Peace Corps Volunteers are playing in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He said that he is encouraged that the Peace Corps Volunteers are making some remarkable strides in influencing behavioural change among the youth, through the life skills programme, that they are implementing.
" It is my desire that all Malawians should change their behaviour as a means of arresting the further spread of HIV/AIDS because the disease is also creating numerous orphans. I have no doubt that with the various support activities you are undertaking in our rural communities the problem of orphans will be alleviated," Muluzi said.
He observed " the phrase, 'America, the hope of the world' will be truly very meaningful to the orphans as they become self reliant and independent through your valuable support.
I believe that democracy in itself is meaningless unless people have good health, among other things. The great majority of our people need to be reached and taught how to prevent themselves from contacting HIV/AIDS."
Muluzi expressed satisfaction with the spirit of self-help, discipline, concern and hardwork that propel the Peace Corps volunteers to work with rural communities even in the remotest parts of the country such as Chitipa in the Northern Region.
"I congratulate you because it is always the young people with the spirit of self-help and discipline, concern for others and their aspiration who pioneer to a new era.
It is the young people who are the engine for reform, whether it is Nicole Nelson teaching at Chikangawa Community Day Secondary School in Mzimba or Emily Petersen working at Tulonkhondo Health Centre in Mwanza. I cannot therefore underestimate the remarkable contributions Peace Corps Volunteers have made in Malawi during the past 40 years.
He hinted that the extraordinary achievements of Peace Corps Volunteers are reflected in the fact that they have touched the lives of many Malawians even at grassroots level. Muluzi said that he is aware that as Peace Corps, they live under difficult conditions in the rural areas and that their wages are small. He therefore thanked them for all the sacrifice and efforts of working together with Malawians by placing their individual skills and talents to shape a better Malawi. He also encouraged them to make Malawi their second home and that he would like the good relations between Malawi and the United States of America to continue so that Malawians should also freely travel to the US.
Speaking at the same ceremony, Peace Corps Country Director Annamaria Watrin said that she was pleased to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Peace Corps in Malawi in the company of President Dr. Bakili Muluzi. She said that she was happy that the government continues to support them.
"Over the years, the support and recognition we've received from the Government of Malawi has been strong and today's auspicious ceremony at Sanjika Palace is a further indication of that support. For this, we thank you," she said.
She also acknowledged the strong relationships they have with various government ministries, which offer them guidance.
Speaking of their achievements Watrin said over 250, 000 students have benefited from classroom teaching offered by over 1200 US Peace Corps teachers since 1963.
This meshes well with President George W. Bush's call a year ago of Peace Corps to grow significantly around the world. As a result of this global initiative, it may be possible for Peace Corps to grow in Malawi as well. This growth could occur both within our current projects and in new programme areas.
Currently, the Peace Corps are undertaking grassroot development work mainly focusing their energies in the following areas:
*Education-through secondary school teaching in Community Day Secondary Shools where they support the Government of Malawi's emphasis on "education for all".
*Health-through placements at rural health centres, the Peace Corps support the government's decentralization efforts and activities in the important areas of HIV/AIDS behaviour change, orphan care, home-based care, youth development; nutrition education; and child survival.
*Environment-through work with the extension staff of the national parks and forestry departments and border communities living near protected areas, the Peace Corps support the Government's policy of community-based management of natural resources.
*Crisis Response through their work in HIV/AIDS, cholera control and food security, the Peace Corps are responding to the recent crises that have affected the country and towards which President Muluzi has requested additional external assistance.
In terms of possible new areas in which they might expand, discussions to date with the technical ministries have pointed them in the direction of teacher training, agriculture, and small enterprise development.
Consultations with the ministries, district level officials, and local non-governmental development partners will continue as they make further decisions on future activities.
The most remarkable achievement over the years has arguably been their enduring commitment to work with those in greatest need at the grassroots level. This is in line with their philosophy of development, which emphasizes meeting the basic human needs of those living in poverty; building the capacity and reducing the dependency of people at the grassroots level; and keeping development activities people-focused.
And also speaking during the same anniversary celebrations, the American Ambassador to Malawi, Roger A. Meece, who was at one time a Peace Corps Volunteer himself, said that the Peace Corps Programme is part of his government, and an integral part of the U.S. Mission here in Malawi.
" Indeed, I believe the Peace Corps represent some of the best value for money of any U.S. Government programme - and I speak as a Government employee. I am not alone in this judgement. President Bush announced some time ago his strong backing for a major expansion of the Peace Corps worldwide in the next few years. That commitment has been backed up by greatly expanded budget proposals to permit the Peace Corps to thrive, and to grow," said Meece.
He however clarified the misconception, which some people hold about the Peace Corps. He explained that Peace Corps are not part of the American civil service.
"But the Volunteers are not U.S. Government employees. They do not represent Washington, or a particular Administration. They are volunteers who have asked for the chance to devote some years of their lives overseas in service to others. They represent the American people, and they come from all parts of our country," said Meece.
He described them as shinning examples of America's national spirit of volunteerism that has long characterized the United States.
"If they are working in the Warm Heart of Africa, they also exemplify the warm heart of the American society. And along with the more than 2,000 former Malawi Volunteers who have preceded them, these Volunteers establish every day the kind of people-to-people contacts that well serve the peoples of Malawi, the United States, and indeed all peoples of the world," said Meece.
And commenting on their work, one of their volunteers Julie Kratz said their work is to transform the lives of Malawi while their lives are also been transformed. She said she is happy to work here in Malawi.
"We are grateful for our current opportunity to live learn .love and share, amongst a people who are perhaps more friendly and welcoming than anywhere else in the world. Zikomo kwambiri. Yewo chomene. Thank you," she said.