Peace Corps Director Travels to South Pacific

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 24, 2005 Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez visited Peace Corps volunteers and staff in Tonga and Fiji last week, in addition to Tongan government and U.S. officials.

Director Vasquez visit began in Tonga with a traditional Kava Welcome Ceremony. Kava, a tea brewed and steeped in an elaborate ceremony, has been a part of Tongan formal ritual and social culture for more than 2000 years. Kava is made from the ground roots of a native pepper plant.

Following the ceremony, Director Vasquez shared his thoughts about the Peace Corps program in Tonga with the staff and volunteers.

While I have only been here a short time, I have already witnessed the value Tongans place on family, community and faith, said Director Vasquez. The people have opened their homes to our volunteers sharing their rich culture, which has resulted in our longstanding, productive and fruitful partnership.

One of Director Vasquez first meetings was an audience with His Majesty King Taufaahua Tupou IV. Director Vasquez was warmly greeted by His Majesty who expressed his gratitude and support for the Peace Corps.

Director Vasquez also met with the Managing Director of the Tonga Development Bank (TBD), Mr. O Afualso Matoto. The Peace Corps has had a successful relationship with the TDB for the pat two decades. Most recently, TDB agreed to be a major partner for Peace Corps newest venture, the Community Micro-enterprise Development Project, which is slated to launch later this year.

Director Vasquez had an opportunity to visit volunteer David Shin. Shin, a native of Seattle, Wash., is an education volunteer, who works with the Tonga Institute of Higher Education (TIHE). At TIHE, he teaches tertiary level computer science courses, creates internally accredited course curriculums and manages the largest computer lab in the country.

Later that day, Director Vasquez met with the Minister of Education, Sports and youth, the Honorable Rev. Dr. Tevita Palefau, who expressed his thanks and gratitude for the work being conducted by Peace Corps volunteers in Tonga.

I believe the education system in Tonga is one of the finest in the South Pacific due in large part to the work of Peace Corps volunteers since 1967, stated Rev. Dr. Palefau. It is amazing to watch Americans embracing our culture and traditions and learning our language. Peace Corps volunteers have built a solid foundation in the community, which is the reason they are so successful.

Director Vasquez concluded the week in Fiji meeting with several volunteers and visiting some of their sites. One such site was that of Ed Sul, a volunteer who recently arrived in Fiji from South Barrington, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

Sul is working on a Rotary project in the Koro-i-Pita Settlement of Naikabula. The project is the result of Rotarian Peter Drysdales dedication to and vision for the community as he has engaged volunteers from around the world to provide safe shelter with clean water to many of the poor and destitute people of Fiji. Currently, 41 families are living in this community which will eventually include 90 homes.

The Peace Corps entered Tonga in 1967. Since then, more than 1500 volunteers have served in Youth Development, education, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Currently, 56 volunteer serve in communities throughout Tonga.

The Peace Corps first arrived to Fiji in 1967 and sent 57 volunteers in 1968. From 1968 to 1998, more than 2,000 volunteers served in the areas of education, health care, rural and community development, agriculture, environment, small entrepreneur development, fisheries, youth development, and finance and planning. The program closed briefly, but reopened in 2003 with the swearing in of 25 new volunteers. Fiji comprises a group of 322 volcanic islands in the South Pacific.

Since 1961, more than 182,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS eders 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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