16 May 2011

Zambia: American Peace Corps a True Partner in Poverty Alleviation

We will only send abroad Americans who are wanted by the host country, who have a real job to do and who are qualified to do that job.

Programmes will be developed with care, and after full negotiation, in order to make sure that there is demand for the Peace Corps and will contribute to the welfare of other people.

Our Peace Corps is not designed as an instrument of diplomacy or propaganda or ideological conflict.

It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common of world development."

These were the words of slain American President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961 when he signed the Executive Order creating the United States (US) Peace Corps.

This was inspired by his October 14, 1960 address to more than 5, 000 University of Michigan students, then as Senator Kennedy and a presidential hopeful.

Peace Corps is a US volunteer organisation dedicated to grassroots development and economic growth in developing countries.

It provides technical assistance by sending qualified volunteers to work on development projects requested by the host country.

During a two-year programme, a volunteer is assigned to work on specific projects in agriculture, health, environment or education.

Volunteers are placed at grassroots level to live and work directly with the people of the countries which they serve.

This year marks 50 years of Peace Corps existence and during this period, more than 195, 000 American Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have served as representatives of America's commitment to helping people around the world to achieve economic independence and sustainable development.

Currently, there are 8,600 volunteers serving in 77 countries around the world and since 1961, more than 200,000 American volunteers have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries.

Peace Corps activities in Zambia started in 1994 with the first 12PVCs arriving in January but the then head of Sstate, Frederick Chiluba requested to Peace Corps to open a programme in Zambia when he visited America in February 1992.

Dr Chiluba's request culminated into signing of an agreement between the Zambian and American governments on September 14, 1993.

George Bush Senior was at the helm of power in America at the time.

Since 1994, more than 1,100 PVCs have served in Zambia. Today, the country has more than 220 volunteers serving in Eastern, Central, Luapula, Northern, North-Western, Southern and Lusaka provinces.

Among the Peace Corps projects are rural aquaculture promotion, rural education development, community health improvement and linking income, food and environment.

Additionally, training in HIV/AIDS awareness and education besides food security are part of their primary project assignment.

Each project works closely with its respective ministry at district, provincial and national levels.To heighten their operations in Zambia, on May 6, 2011 American Ambassador to Zambia Mark Storella swore in 32 American PCV in the linking income, food and environment project during a ceremony that marked the 17th anniversary of PCVs working in Zambia.

PCVs training manager George Sikota said their training lasted 11 weeks, two weeks longer than last year's programme.

The elongated training comprised intensive lessons in the environment-friendly farming and conservation activities.

Mr Sikota explains that of the several competences learnt, one of the five local languages was included for easy communication with local people and that cultural issues of their new local language were also covered to assist the PCVs in adapting.

He adds that in language, the 32, a majority of whom were clad in Chitenge outfits during the ceremony, were divided into five groups where each learnt Nyanja, Bemba, Tumbuka, Lunda or Tonga.

To give them practical experience of what they were learning in language and culture, the PCVs were hosted by local Zambian families from within Chongwe.

The technical competences dealt mainly with skills of organic gardening, aforestation and tree nurseries, bee-keeping among others, all integrated with language and culture.

A two-day workshop was also arranged for the trainees to interact in a working atmosphere with their future host village representatives drawn from all the districts they would be posted.

The volunteers will be spread throughout Northern, North-Western,Luapula, Eastern, Central and Southern provinces.

"This workshop was followed by a week of real life experiences at their future work sites in their provinces as well as getting to know and meet their village community members," Mr Sikota notes.

Ambassador Storella advised the volunteers to desist from engaging themselves in partisan activities besides respecting the Zambian people and their various cultures.

Mr Storella stresses that 2011 being an election year, the volunteers should concentrate on the Peace Corps' main goal of promoting world peace and understanding through the provision of technical assistance and cultural exchange at the expense of involving themselves inpartisan matters.

"You are here to promote peace. Promotion of peace is a worthwhile endeavor.

Stay clear of any kind of partisan activities.

"I encourage you to embrace your next few years here with enthusiasm, with respect for Zambia and its people, and with the recognition that these years will change your lives forever," he notes.

The envoy observes that Zambia is one of the best countries for one to be a Peace Corps Volunteer as it was one of the African countries with the largest Peace Corps programmes with more than 20 per cent of volunteers opting to serve for a third year owing to the warm welcome and strong bonds that are built between the local people and the American PCVs.

He acknowledges the continued collaboration that continues to exist between the Peace Corps and the Zambian Government since the Peace Corps programme was introduced in Zambia in 1994.

Ambassador Storella adds that the partnership has enabled the American volunteers to form lasting bonds with community members as they strived to promote world peace and friendship through service to the common cause of global development.

Mr Storella also notes that no matter what the volunteers' primary assignment was, all Peace Corps Volunteers were trained to engage their communities on programmes to mitigate HIV/AIDS and that the American government supported its Zambian counterpart in its efforts to tackle the disease.

"I urge the volunteers to pursue HIV/AIDS prevention with the greatest energy and enthusiasm.

Prevention is not an easy task but it is an essential one," he said.

He implores the volunteers to work closely with girls and women in their activities as an educated and empowered woman could break the cycle of poverty by adopting positive behaviour changes such as hygiene.

Her Royal Highness Chieftainess Nkomeshya Mukamabo II also echoes Mr Storella's sentiments against the volunteers whom she addressed as her children engaging themselves in partisan politics.

Chieftainess Nkomeshya boasts that besides hosting the 32 volunteers for 11 weeks in her Chiefdom, their ability to learn how to speak various local languages in Chongwe was testimony that she was a "Cosmopolitan type of Chieftainess and a United Nation" as all the 73 ethnic groupings were found in Chongwe District.

Peace Corps have had several successful trainings at the Farmers Training Institute in the district.

She appeals to the American Government to consider spreading the volunteers to all the nine provinces and besides asking for another group of volunteers to her chiefdom soon as she was now left in a "mourning period" because she has "become a mother without children"and she wishes the volunteers well besides imploring them not to forget their home stay families even when they went back to America.

To show Government's appreciation to the work by the Peace Corps,Chongwe District Commissioner (DC) Japhen Mwakalombe admits that the gesture by the American volunteers would go a long way in supplementing state efforts in areas of agro forestry, environmental education and income generation.

Mr Mwakalombe notes that the HIV/AIDS is affecting the ability of all Zambians to pursue their goals as it affects all sectors of the economy but expresses optimism that with partnership and hard work among various stakeholders, including, lives of those infected and affected would be saved.

Country Peace Corps director Thomas Kennedy reminds the 32 PCVs that they would return to America different persons, adding that being avolunteer was a tough job but advises them to be patient and gentle.

To sum it all, programme and training director Nancy Yuill notes the anniversary among others created an opportunity for America to re-affirm its commitment to global peace and understanding besides celebrating the amazing gifts and assets the 32 were taking to theirnew communities in Zambia.

"Trainees, over the past 11 weeks, you have refined skills you didnot even know you had, you have acquired knowledge you did not know existed and you have polished your attitudes to a fine sheen.

You came here to Zambia with the heart for this assignment and now you have the skills and knowledge to put that passion to work. Well done!"Yuill stresses.

That the Peace Corps mission is paying off in Zambia should be appreciated as their works continue to supplement Government efforts in the various sectors of the economy.

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