5 November 2003

Zambia: Peace Corps : Spies Or Friends?

analysis

Its presence around the world has been shrouded in a sphere of mystery and suspicion.

Since its inception 42 years ago, the Peace Corps has been dubbed as a group of "spies" - employed by their country to obtain secret information from rival countries or organisations.

However, this is not the true picture of the Peace Corps who have also been working in Zambia since 1994.

Oliver Kanene, HIV/AIDS and Crisis Corps Zambia co-ordinator dismisses that notion.

He says there has been so much "secrecy" on the mission of the Peace Corps volunteers in Zambia and that it was time to let the people know the truth about their mission.

Reality is that since 1961, the Peace Corps has shared with the world America's most precious resource - its people.

Since then, more than 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers have been invited by 136 host countries to work on issues ranging from HIV/AIDS education, Information Technology and environmental preservation.

A report from Peace Corps says its volunteers serve in 69 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East.

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1961 when then senator John F Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.

From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.

The Peace Corps mission goals are:

-Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women

- Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served

-Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

Together with members of local communities, volunteers work in areas like education, youth outreach and community development, environment and information technology.

The volunteers range from college students to retirees.

"Every Peace Corps volunteer's experience is different. Whether teaching English to elementary school children in Zambia or launching a computer learning centre in Moldova to promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in South Africa or working on soil conservation in Panama, volunteers bring their skills and life experiences where they are needed most."

Peace Corps Zambia opened its programme in 1994 with a group of water and sanitation/hygiene education volunteers (Washe).

In 1996, the programme expanded to include a Community Action for Health Project (CAHP) and a Rural Aquaculture Project (RAP).

In 2001, the Washe and CAHP programmes were merged and a new project was added, Linking Income, Food and Environment (Life). In 2003 a fourth programme was initiated, Learning at Taonga Market (LTM) on ZNBC's radio two.

About 125 volunteers live and work in eight of Zambia's nine provinces.

Twenty-five Peace Corps staff are based in Lusaka while 15 training staff that support them are at the training centre in Mwekera.

By 2004, an additional 10 Crisis Corps are expected in the country to work with NGOs on HIV/AIDS education and prevention.

The CAHP programme strives to complement the Zambian Government's effort to decentralise health care services to the community level.

Volunteers work with and empower the village level neighbourhood health committees.

Preventative health care is their primary emphasis, including HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention and reducing food and water contamination.

RAP volunteers are involved in rural aquaculture, in close collaboration with the department of fisheries, to help develop the quality and quantity of fish culture activities in rural farming communities. These activities increase food security and provide cash incomes for fish farmers.

The Life programme promotes the conservation of wildlife to enhance and sustain the economic benefits of tourism.

Target populations are those living in game management areas that adjoin national parks.

Volunteer efforts are directed to local infrastructure capacity building, environmental education and livelihood security as an alternative to poaching wildlife and planting crops in national parks.

LTM is a programme that provides learning opportunities to the most disadvantaged children in Zambia through Interactive radio instruction.

Orphans and other children unable to participate in a traditional classroom setting are able to gain basic life survival skills in rural communities.

Zambia's Peace Corps 2004/6 strategic plan projects a potential doubling of volunteers within the next three years with appropriate funding.

"Zambia offers one of the sub-Saharan Africa's safest and most secure living and working environments.

Already one of Africa's larger programmes, Zambia is considered by Peace Corps to be one of the most promising countries for increasing volunteer numbers, expanding into undeserved areas, and expanding the diversity of its programmes," according to Peace Corps.

Within the Peace Corps is the Crisis Corps programme which mobilises former Peace Corps volunteers to provide help on a short-term basis to countries facing critical needs.

Crisis Corps assignments range from three months to one year. Placements of Crisis Corps volunteers are made directly with governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Since the programme was created in 1996, more than 500 volunteers have served in 31 countries.

Each year, about 4,000 Peace Corps volunteers complete their assignments and join an alumni force that is now over 170,000 strong.

Crisis Corps volunteers are drawn from this pool of Peace Corps alumni who have served in 135 countries and worked in over 250 languages.

The volunteers have technical experience in agriculture, business development, construction, education, health (including HIV/AIDS education), environmental protection and restoration, water and sanitation. They serve as valuable resources in critical situations.

Crisis Corps projects must meet the following criteria:

-The safety and security of volunteers can be assured

-The project is based on the expressed needs of the population and involves their active participation

-To the greatest extent possible, the project strengthens local institutions, includes skill transfer, uses appropriate technologies and protects the environment

-The Crisis Corps is a value-added resource to the project, and is not expected to take on duties that are inherently those of paid staff like overall responsibility for project management and budget, hiring and firing of staff.

The Peace Corps meets transport costs to and from country of assignment, living allowance and medical care for its volunteers.

Partner organisations are only asked to provide housing and any work-related transportation or project costs for volunteers.

Disaster relief projects have been carried out by Peace Corps in Belize where hurricane Iris inflicted damage, El Salvador, Mauritania, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean.

Peace Corps HIV/AIDS initiatives have been carried out mostly in African countries of Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Lesotho and Togo. Honduras has also benefited.

Humanitarian responses have been made in Guinea, Lesotho and Malawi, while post-conflict country assistance has gone to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republic of Serbia.

Zambians are reknowned for their hospitality and friendliness but are in dire need of development aid not only in monetary terms or material gain but also thrive on good will extended to them by partners in development.

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