Washington — Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told an audience at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington March 27 that the work of Peace Corps volunteers has made a great impact on him.
Koroma spoke a day before meeting with President Obama at the White House, along with President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde. The same day, the leaders, with Ambassador Cheikh Niang representing Senegal, also met with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.
Koroma told his Peace Corps audience: "Peace Corps is an organization for which I have a strong personal affinity. The dedication and professionalism of Peace Corps volunteers in our education system made a great impact on me during my formative years.
"Since 1962, Peace Corps volunteers have been great ambassadors to my country, and I know they will continue to play a critical role as we write the next chapter in the history of my country," Koroma said, according to a March 28 Peace Corps news release.
Koroma delivered his remarks as part of the Loret Miller Ruppe Speaker Series, which honors the Peace Corps' longest-serving director and is a forum for distinguished individuals to speak about issues related to the Peace Corps' mission, such as volunteering, public service and international peace and development.
Acting Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet welcomed the president to Peace Corps headquarters. "We are very proud of our long history of partnership with Sierra Leone," she said. Since 1962, more than 3,615 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Sierra Leone in the areas of education, environment and health.
"There is a deep and lasting friendship between Peace Corps and the community members of Sierra Leone," Hessler-Radelet said. "Peace Corps volunteers and staff work hand in hand with the government of Sierra Leone to promote quality education throughout the country."
After closing in 1994 because of political unrest, the Peace Corps program in Sierra Leone reopened in 2010. Currently, more than 90 Peace Corps volunteers are working in math, science and English education in 12 districts across the country. In addition, four Peace Corps Response volunteers are training teachers in higher education institutions.
Before the event, President Koroma was reunited with returned Peace Corps volunteer Sharon Kasper Alvarado. Alvarado served in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966 as an education volunteer and got to know President Koroma's family and schoolmates. The two had not seen each other for nearly 50 years.
President Koroma was first elected in 2007 and is the fourth president of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The Koroma administration has focused on rebuilding the country's national infrastructure after a civil war, fighting corruption and improving the country's health care system. In November 2012, President Koroma was re-elected for another five-year term.
"My country is proud to count Peace Corps among our most prized partners," Koroma said.
Volunteers in Sierra Leone are trained and work in the following languages: Krio, Mende, Temne, Mandinka, SuSu, Limba and Kuranko.