Peace Corps Director Travels to West Africa
March 1, 2006WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2006 Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez returned to the U.S. after a two-week trip to three West African countries, where he met volunteers and dignitaries in Benin, Togo, and Mali.
During the first week, Director Vasquez traveled to several locations in Benin to meet with volunteers and view their accomplishments firsthand. He also met with Benin Minister of Foreign Affairs Rogatien Biaou, and Ambassador Wayne Neill at the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou. While in Cotonou, the Director spoke about the Peace Corps' 45th anniversary during a reception for local Peace Corps volunteers and staff members.
"The work of Peace Corps volunteers in Benin has made an impact throughout the country and demonstrates that when you match skilled volunteers with strong communities, much can be achieved," Director Vasquez said.
In Porto Novo, the capital of Benin, Director Vasquez met with several volunteers working in health and environment projects. The volunteers had an opportunity to discuss their activities and share their experiences in Benin. Later, Director Vasquez met with volunteer Eva Lewis of Hyattsville, Md., at her site in Avrankou.
Lewis works with a non-governmental organization that teaches women computer skills and helps them apply these skills in the job market. Inspired by the enthusiasm of the women, Lewis has expanded the group to include training in accounting, organization and agriculture production for several local women's groups with small businesses. Using skills learned in Peace Corps training and funding from two U.S. Agency for International Development grants, Lewis has taught these women about breeding and harvesting, which has improved the groups' sales of fish, palm oil, and vegetables.
Since the program's establishment in 1968, over 1,400 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Benin. Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is located in western Africa, and currently hosts 80 volunteers. While serving, Peace Corps volunteers strive to provide the nation with the skills and resources necessary to provide quality education to children, preserve its fragile environment, promote business skills, and supply health care to families. To learn more about Benin, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? section.
The next stop on Director Vasquez's schedule was Togo. During his stay, he met with Prime Minister Edem Kodjo, U. S. Ambassador David Dunn, and Peace Corps staff.
"Peace Corps volunteers are the ambassadors for Togo when they return to the U.S.," said Prime Minister Kodjo. "President Kennedy planted a small seed in 1961 that turned into a large tree which continues to bear fruit."
Director Vasquez also had the opportunity to travel throughout Togo, meeting with Peace Corps volunteers and learning about their current projects. While visiting Peace Corps volunteer Amber Kenny of Houghton, Mich., Director Vasquez was given a tour of her small animal raising project. Togo's population is quickly outgrowing its food supply, so volunteers have been working with farmers to increase production and output. Kenny and other volunteers are training local farmers in better animal husbandry techniques. So far the project has been a success, growing from 24 animals to the current population of over 300 since it began in 2002. While visiting the site, Director Vasquez also had the opportunity to plant a nitrogen fixing tree that will improve the soil for further growth of the land.
In a radio interview on his last day in Togo, Director Vasquez had an opportunity to share with the listening audience his observations of the Peace Corps program: "In collaboration with their communities, volunteers have made a major contribution in Togo that has been sustained for over four decades. This success is due in large r contribution in Togo that has been sustained for over four decades. This success is due in large part to the hospitality of the government and the individual communities where the volunteers work."
The Peace Corps entered Togo in 1962, and since then over 2,200 volunteers have served in the western African country. At the request of the Ministry of Education, Peace Corps Volunteers are working with two education projects that emphasize building communities' capacity to prepare young people by developing leadership skills and employment opportunities. Volunteers in both projects help interested young people and communities develop computer centers at the regional, district and village levels. Volunteers also strive to promote environmental preservation, HIV/AIDS prevention, and business development through the education of local adults and children. Currently, 96 volunteers serve in Togo. To learn more about Togo, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? section.
Rounding out his two-week West Africa trip with a final stop in the Republic of Mali. Director Vasquez had the opportunity to meet with President Amadou Toumani Tour, who invited him to Mali after the two met at Peace Corps headquarters in 2003. President Tour has long been a supporter of the Peace Corps and took this opportunity to praise the more than 2100 volunteers who have served in Mali since 1971.
"Some donors give money while others give equipment," stated President Tour. "Peace Corps volunteers give their hearts, and you can't put a price on that."
As part of his travels through Mali, Director Vasquez visited several volunteers; including Robert Miller of Fall River, Mass. Miller is a small enterprise development volunteer working with the Ministry of Microfinance and the Mali Finance organization. Among his many responsibilities, Miller serves as a liaison between American business and the Ministry. He and Director Vasquez discussed the success of microfinance programs in Mali and other Peace Corps countries.
Director Vasquez also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Mali, Terence McCulley and Mali's Minister for the Promotion of Investments, Ousmane Thiam. Director Vasquez thanked Minister Thiam for his continuing support of the Peace Corps. He also discussed further collaboration efforts between the Peace Corps and the Ministry for the development of small and medium-sized businesses and the promotion of investment programs.
"As I traveled through many towns and villages in Mali, I was moved by the strong friendships that exist between Peace Corps volunteers and their communities. Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in the lives of many Malians today, just as they have over the 35 year history of Peace Corps Mali," Director Vasquez said.
Currently, 128 Peace Corps volunteers are working within Mali to confront imminent food shortages due to a rapidly growing population and frequent droughts. Volunteers strive to improve domestic food production, as well as find solutions to difficulties in water availability, environmental conservation, and micro-enterprise development. Volunteers are also providing education on preventative health care and HIV/AIDS awareness. Over 500 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Mali since 1993. To learn more about Mali, please visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? 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 beU.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.
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