Gambia: Nine Peace Corps Volunteers Sworn-in

At least nine United States Peace Corps volunteers in environment were on Friday sworn in at a ceremony held at the US ambassador's residence along the Alantic Road, Fajara.

The swearing-in ceremony was the culmination of a 10-week pre-service training that sought to prepare the volunteers for life and service in their respective communities. It was during that period that the volunteers learnt to communicate in local languages, gained a deeper understanding of the rich patterns that make up the Gambian culture, as well learned to be responsible for their health, safety and security while in the country.

Addressing the volunteers, US Ambassador David Alford reminded them that their work will contribute directly to the economic sustainability, education, and the future of The Gambia. He enjoined the volunteers to remember three key things while in the country: absorb the new culture, live within it, but never forget who you are. "Your culture, your beliefs, your principles are what brought you here and they will keep you grounded and will take you home.

Also understand the new culture you are now part of; find the value in it; be open to new ideas; be open to how things will play out. You may not understand right now why you are assigned to a certain village in West Africa when you planned on being in Central America. This is not Guatemala, but you are here for a reason and time will make it more clearly to you. Allow yourself to make mistakes and find compromises if your original ideas do not work or your project develops leaks," he counselled.

Ambassador Alford further told the volunteers that the true friendships and community ties they would forge will remain even for decades should they return to visit this wonderful land later in their life. He noted that their experiences here will become the common denominator for their future choices and pathways."You will learn to understand yourself and your country better as you learn to understand other peoples and other cultures.

When all is said and done, according to Paul Simon, the roots and the rhythm remain. Music, smells, and this experience will stay with you for the rest of your life. Thirdly, you will know you can make a difference in this chaotic yet wonderful world. You can light a spark, plant a seed, and create a future. Your skills and your commitment to service will leave a legacy of development and understanding," he further inspires the volunteers.

The US ambassadorfurther reminded the volunteers that their job description for the next two years is about promoting peace and friendship around the world while engaged in the adventure of a lifetime.

Also speaking at the occasion, the director general of the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Babou Jobe said the country's association with the Peace Corps dates back to some 46 years ago, noting that over that period, they have forged a partnership that has not only grown stronger, but is also flexible enough to accommodate The Gambia's ever-changing development needs and challenges.

"The Peace Corps volunteers have shared their expertise and experiences with Gambians in several diverse fields including health, education, agriculture, agro-forestry, forestry and natural resources management, amongst others," he added.

Jobe also recalled that last year, the president of the Republic hosted the Peace Corps global 50 golden jubilee and Gambia 45ft anniversary celebration in his home village of Kanilai, which he said, was a clear manifestation of the Gambian leader's appreciation of the work of the volunteers in the country.

The NARI boss went on to indicate that during the past two or three decades, a combination of adverse weather conditions, particularly drought and unsustainable human practices including poor agricultural practices, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and significant rate of rural-urban drift have led to severe deterioration of the environment and natural resources.

"The Gambia," he said, "was confronted with serious problems associated with environmental degradation, salt water intrusion into fresh water zones of the river system, deforestation and desertification, lose of natural resources and environmental health problems, among other things".

The Peace Corps The Gambia country director, Leon B. Kayego,also underscored the importance of the Peace Corps programme and its contribution to various areas of development.

Also addressing the volunteers, an environment programme manager at the Peace Corps The Gambia, Saikou Njai, affirmed that food security and environment degradation have been a challenge for the past decades, while noting that these areas are high priorities for the Gambia government and its people.

"The Peace Corps environment and agriculture [programmes] seek to work with Gambian communities to improve food security and arrest deforestation and desertification. The Peace Corps Volunteers work with their counterparts in several ways to contribute to these priority sectors including the promotion and establishment of vegetable gardens, fruit tree orchards, woodlots, multipurpose tree nurseries, agro-forestry, beekeeping, improve techniques of agriculture and natural resource management," he outlined.

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