Africa: Peace Corps On Front Lines of Global HIV/Aids Education

Washington, DC — Agency reopens programs in Africa to deal with AIDS prevention

The Peace Corps is reactivating programs in certain countries so volunteers can help communities combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, says Jody Olsen, the agency's deputy director.

HIV/AIDS "represents a growing programming trend" for the agency, Olsen told a group of former volunteers November 11. Botswana, where Peace Corps had finished its work in 1997, and Swaziland, which had not hosted Peace Corps volunteers since 1996, are two countries where volunteers returned in 2003 to work in health education, she said.

With 33 percent of adults in Botswana infected with HIV/AIDS, the disease is the greatest problem affecting the people of that country, according to the Peace Corps web site. Volunteers there are training teachers and community members in how to prevent infection and working with in-school and out-of-school youth to raise their awareness of the disease.

All Peace Corps volunteers now receive training in HIV/AIDS education regardless of their primary assignment, Olsen said.

Olsen added that with strong bipartisan support for Peace Corps in Congress, the agency continues to grow. As of September 30, she said, there were more than 7,000 volunteers serving around the world -- more than at any time since 1975.

In another sign of the agency's expansion, Peace Crops November 12 announced that volunteers will begin serving in Mexico in 2004. Those volunteers will work in information technology, small business development and science, the agency said.

In contrast to the 1960s and 1970s, when Peace Corps volunteers went abroad and were isolated from friends, family and even coworkers, today nearly all volunteers have access to the Internet. In addition, the agency will soon be including in volunteers' monthly living allowances funds for cell phone fees, she said.

Access to modern communications technology greatly aids volunteers' ability to locate up-to-date training materials in a variety of languages that help them in their jobs, she said. For example, volunteers in the field can access an online book of stories on HIV/AIDS prevention behaviors, she added.

Peace Corps volunteers now serve in 69 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East. The agency recently sent its first group of volunteers to Azerbaijan to work primarily as secondary school teachers and teacher trainers, Olsen said.

President Bush has proposed to increase the number of volunteers to 15,000.

Since 1961, more than 170,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, information technology, business development, the environment and agriculture.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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