Peace Corps Turns Hope Into Action On World AIDS Day
December 1 marks World AIDS Day, and Peace Corps Volunteers are key participants in the global effort to prevent the spread of the pandemic and to care for those affected by HIV/AIDS. With HIV/AIDS initiatives integrated across all program sectors, 55 percent of Peace Corps Volunteers are conducting some type of HIV/AIDS activities in their communities, according to the 2006 Peace Corps Volunteer survey. In addition, 97 percent of all Peace Corps posts are currently involved in HIV/AIDS activities.
In total, 2,800 Peace Corps Volunteers are dedicated to conducting projects for individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. These Volunteers assisted over one million individuals in prevention and care.
"The Peace Corps is committed to combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic and our dedicated and capable Volunteers are doing an impressive job of incorporating HIV/AIDS education into their work in local communities," said Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter.
Most Volunteers include HIV/AIDS messages into their projects, regardless of their technical sector or specific assignment. For example, in agriculture projects, Volunteers work with orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS to grow more nutritious, low-labor crops that can be consumed or sold for revenue. Volunteers working in small business development train groups of people living with HIV/AIDS to develop sustainable income projects. And education Volunteers create school lesson plans that feature life skills and teach young people about HIV prevention.
Here are a few examples of how Peace Corps Volunteers have made a difference in their communities:
Bella Rammon, Malawi
Bella Rammon, a health Volunteer in Malawi, is working at the Mbera Health Center in her host community. Rammon has helped organize a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS that has grown from three members to 17. In addition to supporting one another, the group works to inform the community about HIV/AIDS, reduce the stigma attached to HIV, and demonstrate that HIV positive people can lead productive lives. Rammon has also taught the group about proper nutrition and the need to consume the appropriate foods to help maintain their health. To accomplish this she assisted the group in getting a small grant from Friends of Malawi, a Returned Peace Corps group in the United States, to establish a nutritional vegetable and herb garden. One of group's main goals is to help support community orphans who have been affected by HIV/AIDS by making peanut butter, both for the children's consumption, and as an income generating project. With Rammon's help, the HIV/AIDS support group has grown and its members have built confidence in the community.
Ryan Adams, Paraguay
As an urban youth Volunteer in Paraguay, Ryan Adams learned from conversations with local youth that while they have a basic understanding of health, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, they were critically under informed. Adams formed a partnership with a group of youth center health care professionals. Together, they designed an HIV/AIDS curriculum that was implemented in 12 high schools in the community. They also helped form five youth discussion groups that met outside of the classroom and focused on activities related to safe sex education. To keep the youth discussions enjoyable and engaging, each meeting ended with an informative and successful game show-style question and answer session.
Amy Smethurst, Ukraine
Volunteer Amy Smethurst attended Ukraine's first ever workshop in Ukraine funded by the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The workshop inspired Smethurst and her counterpart, Anatoliy EvdoscPlan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The workshop inspired Smethurst and her counterpart, Anatoliy Evdoschuk, to design the project "Zhytomyr's Youth, Zhytomyr's Future" to facilitate awareness and prevention of the alarming increase of HIV transmissions in Ukraine. With her counterpart and the non-governmental organization A.C.E.T. (AIDS Care Education Treatment), Smethurst helped establish a peer-to-peer education program on HIV/AIDS prevention, sponsored "contact parties" twice a month for the 20 participating schools, placed a colorful HIV/AIDS tent in the center of the city to disseminate information and distribute HIV/AIDS brochures, and had two free showings of the film, "People Living with HIV" at Zhytomyr's local movie theatre. "Zhytomyr's Youth, Zhytomyr's Future" has impacted approximately 2,100 students, ages 14-17.
The Peace Corps is one of the U.S. government agencies implementing the PEPFAR, a five-year, $15 billion initiative. Although the Peace Corps plays a small role in PEPFAR, it has received over $14 million in PEPFAR funding since 2004, which has enabled the Peace Corps to enhance its HIV/AIDS activities. While most of the funding for HIV/AIDS education and prevention comes from the Peace Corps' main operating budget, this additional funding has allowed for a multitude of programming and training enhancements, including supplemental technical training for Volunteers; funding of additional two-year Volunteers, Crisis Corps Volunteers, third-year extension Volunteers, and support staff; acquisition of information technology equipment; small grant programs for community-initiated activities; and development of technical resources. Since the Peace Corps and PEPFAR partnership began in 2004, Peace Corps countries benefiting from funding have included Botswana, Guyana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Dominican Republic, Eastern Caribbean, Panama, Lesotho, Swaziland, Thailand, Ukraine, Malawi, and Morocco.
The Peace Corps will continue to forge partnerships and strengthen programming and training to respond to the maturing HIV/AIDS pandemic. In collaboration with our host nations, the Peace Corps remains dedicated to turning hope into action by providing a range of innovative programs that help those most in need. To learn more about Peace Corps' efforts in HIV/AIDS education and prevention, please visit the What Do Volunteers Do? section.
The Peace Corps is celebrating a 45-year legacy of service at home and abroad, and a 30-year high for Volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 182,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 138 countries where Volunteers have served. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.