President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is proposing the introduction of a national service program that will run along with the Peace Corps Program as a means of engaging the thousands of young Liberian college graduates still unemployed.
"It is time that our own young people, even our own old people, be a part of this initiative where our people will join the Peace Corps as national volunteers working with each of you in those schools that will represent not only an opportunity for them to interact and to enhance their own capability; but also engage themselves with our people in the communities, in the schools, and develop the kind of relationships that leads to reconciliation and peace promotion," President Sirleaf stressed. She hoped that consultations were proceeding between the Ministry of Education and the Peace Corps Directorate to ensure that this happens by next year, 2013.
Delivering a lecture in the 2012 Loret Miller Ruppe Speaker Series at Peace Corps Headquarters, in Washington, D.C., on June 11, President Sirleaf suggested the idea, as this initiative would not only address the problem that enhances the country's quality of education, but promote the historical partnership between Liberia and the United States and broaden the frontiers of possibilities for collaboration and cooperation.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the remarks at the swearing-in of 44 new Peace Corps Volunteers --34 traditional two-year Volunteers and 9 Response Volunteers -- at a ceremony held in the Foreign Ministry's C. Cecil Dennis,, Jr. Auditorium on August 3. She expressed thanks and appreciation to the United States Government and Peace Corps Volunteers, in particular, who continue to come to Liberia to help in the country's transformation through education. "Despite our many challenges, travel advisories and other reports, you still come to serve," she said, adding, "I see this as an expression of confidence in our effort to make progress, to improve security, to promote economic development, good governance, to respond to the health and educational needs of our people." The Liberian President said she is pleased that the Program is expanding throughout the country. Making remarks, the United States Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires, a.i., Ambassador Michael Arietti, welcomed the initiative advanced by President Sirleaf for a national service program.
He said that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will work with the Peace Corps and the Ministry of Education to place Liberian graduates with Peace Corps Volunteers in high schools. "Our Embassy will work with the Ministry of Education to explore ways to implement your vision," he told President Sirleaf.
He observed that the success of the Peace Corps Program in Liberia, which has rapidly grown in size and scope, is because of this government's leadership and support. "Your presence at the swearing-in ceremony, every time we have a new group, sends a strong message of support to Volunteers," Ambassador Arietti said.
Ambassador Arietti, himself a former Peace Corps Volunteer, encouraged the Volunteers to serve their country well and make the most of their time in Liberia. He warned that their assignment here will change them in many ways. "Having lived and worked in another country will deepen your appreciation and understanding of the United States - both its strengths and shortcomings," he said, cautioning, "You will never view the U.S. the same way again. You will benefit from this broadened perspective in what careers you pursue and whatever roles you play in U.S. civil society."
The Peace Corps-Liberia Country Director, Mr. Vincent Groh, introduced the 44 new Peace Corps Volunteers, three of whom are in their seventies. They come from the states of California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Washington. He disclosed that beginning this academic semester, there will be a total of 65 Volunteers in country, serving in 9 of the 15 counties, teaching English, Math and Science and mentoring at least 7,000 young Liberians in 39 government-run high schools and one university.
He indicated that this batch of Volunteers is the largest group to have arrived in Liberia since the commencement of the program 50 years ago. The Peace Corps Volunteers program began in Liberia in 1962. Mr. Groh stressed that by the start of the 2013 school year, the Peace Corps will have expanded its activities in all 15 counties, targeting the remaining five southeastern counties. By then, Volunteers will be teaching in all 55 public senior high schools in the 14 counties outside of Montserrado.
Likewise, he said, commencing this academic semester, Peace Corps will place Volunteers at Liberia's teacher training colleges, starting with Cuttington University. The program will expand to the University of Liberia and William V.S. Tubman University next year. Already, three Response Volunteers have been assigned to Cuttington.
Mr. Groh informed the audience that Peace Corps-Liberia has initiated assessments leading to its expansion into the remaining five counties in southeastern Liberia, namely, River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru, Sinoe, and Grand Gedeh counties. "We plan to place Volunteers at schools in these counties in August 2013," he said, while opening a regional office in Zwedru, in Grand Gedeh, to support these schools and Volunteers. Earlier in the program, the Acting Education Minister, Dr. Mator Kpangbai, enumerated the splendid performance of the Peace Corps Volunteers that led to the improvement in students' WAEC results in rural areas around the country. "Peace Corps have a tradition in Liberia. Their coming to Liberia in 2008 has changed the Robertsport High School in Grand Cape County," he said, noting that for the past three years students there could not pass the WAEC exams; but, this year, all 38 students had been successful.
He also named the Buttuo High School, in Nimba County, as another school that was successful in this year's WAEC exams and was hopeful that, in the next five years, the educational standards will surpass this generation, adding that no generation should learn less, rather they should learn more. Liberia's Foreign Minister Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan welcomed the Peace Corps to Liberia and wished them well during their stay.