Peace Corps Director Travels to Madagascar

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 19, 2005 Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez visited Peace Corps volunteers and staff in Madagascar this week in addition to government of Madagascar and U.S. officials bringing to a close a three-week trip to Peace Corps countries throughout Africa.

Visiting Peace Corps volunteers in their host communities, Director Vasquez observed their work and met the people they assist. One of the first activities of the visit was a nature hike with a group of volunteers through the Andasibe National Park. Environmental volunteer Nate Engle, a resident of Reed City, Mich., led the hike through the forest reserve, which is home to numerous species that are indigenous to Madagascar.

Director Vasquez meets members of the community where volunteer Nate Engle serves.
Director Vasquez meets members of the community where volunteer Nate Engle serves.
After the hike, Director Vasquez visited Engles host community, where he observed Engles accomplishments in agroforestry. Although Madagascar is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, deforestation and soil erosion have greatly affected farming communities. Since 80 percent of the population relies on farming for food and income, environmental education is especially important. Engle works with the Farming Association to educate farmers on sustainable agricultural techniques in an effort to restore soil fertility throughout Madagascar.

One of Engles projects, which was initiated by the previous volunteer at the site, has had a profound impact on the local community. By marketing the red rice they produce at a trade show in Europe, the farmers in Engles community are now able to export some of their rice, resulting in a significant increase in revenue.

"The sustainability of this project during the service of two consecutive volunteers is strong evidence of the programs success and viability," stated Director Vasquez.

Director Vasquez also visited Alarobia and Ambatomanga, the homes of two Peace Corps training sites. The new class of Peace Corps trainees is learning skills to help them when they begin their service in early September. In Madagascar, education volunteers work in underserved rural communities to help students and teachers improve English language skills, which will assist them in the workplace. Volunteers also support the governments initiatives to raise teaching standards and strengthen the links between communities and schools.

Later, Director Vasquez, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar James McGee, spent time meeting with government officials from Madagascar, including President Marc Ravalomanana, Minister of Education Hajanirina Razafinjatovo, and Minister of Health Dr. Jean Louis Robinson. They discussed the successes and challenges of the Peace Corps program.

After his meeting with President Ravalomanana, Director Vasquez addressed the press corps as he left the palace.

"The Peace Corps values the program in Madagascar because the volunteers are making positive contributions, but also because they are learning about Madagascar and will share their experience with the American people when they return home," said Director Vasquez. "It is my strong belief that the collaboration between the Peace Corps and Madagascar will continue to flourish, due in large part to the hospitality and welcoming spirit of the people of this great country."

Director Vasquez also received a warm welcome from Minister of Education Razafinjatovo who expressed tremendous respect and gratitude for Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar.

"It is an honor for us to meet with you iand gratitude for Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar.

"It is an honor for us to meet with you in Madagascar to express our sincere appreciation for the Peace Corps and the volunteers, who are key to the success of our education program," said Minister Razafinjatovo. "The Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar are not only teaching English in the primary and secondary schools, but also training teachers and community and business leaders. Madagascar is surrounded by English-speaking countries, and it is important for the Malagasy to be able to do business with them in English."

The Peace Corps entered Madagascar in 1993. Since then, more than 500 volunteers have served in education, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, community health, and environmental education programs. Currently, over 120 volunteers serve in communities throughout Madagascar. To learn more about Madagascar, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? section.

Since 1961, more than 178,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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