Peace Corps Director Visits South Africa and Botswana

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 18, 2004 – Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez traveled to Africa this past week, visiting South Africa and Botswana. Director Vasquez attended the annual Africa Region Country Directors\' Conference in Johannesburg, followed by meetings with volunteers, foreign officials, and Peace Corps staff.

The director kicked-off the week at the Africa Region Country Directors\' Conference, where he joined Peace Corps country directors and staff from 26 African nations. While in Johannesburg, Director Vasquez met with U.S. Ambassador Jendayi Frazer and South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Education Mohamed Enver Surty, to whom he expressed his appreciation for the continued support of the Peace Corps in South Africa.

In Botswana, Director Vasquez met with President Festus Mogae and U.S. Ambassador Joseph Huggins to discuss the Botswana Peace Corps program. All Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana are dedicated to working in HIV/AIDS education and prevention. Director Vasquez noted that Peace Corps volunteers are uniquely suited to work in the fields of HIV/AIDS prevention and education because they live and work in their communities, are trained in the local language, and are able to share information in a culturally sensitive way. The World Health Organization estimates that over 35 percent of Botswana’s citizens are infected with the virus.

"The Peace Corps is pleased to collaborate with the government of Botswana in its effort to stem the spread of HIV," Director Vasquez said. "Peace Corps volunteers are making an impact while working in communities that have been affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We are looking forward to the continuation and expansion of this valuable program."

Director Vasquez also visited volunteers and their projects in various regions of Botswana. He met with 14 volunteers who concentrate their efforts on educating women about methods to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. These volunteers receive extensive training and work with local counterparts. In Kanye, Botswana, the director met with volunteer Kevin Collins whose projects include working at a day care center for orphans and vulnerable children. The children also performed a traditional dance in honor of the visit.

Last year, President George W. Bush visited Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana to thank them for their dedication and commitment to education and awareness of the deadly pandemic.

Botswana, located in southern Africa, has hosted nearly 2,000 Peace Corps volunteers since it was initially established in 1966. In 1997, Peace Corps halted its program and re-entered the nation in 2003 with an exclusive focus on HIV/AIDS. While serving, volunteers strive to train community members in HIV/AIDS prevention, initiate prevention programs, motivate support for AIDS orphans, and assist in planning, organizing, and conducting prevention-related activities. Botswana currently hosts 45 volunteers.

Peace Corps entered South Africa in 1997, and more than 350 volunteers have since served. The Peace Corps has entered a partnership with certain South African educational departments in order to develop a culture of learning, teaching, and service. Volunteers also work to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and non-governmental organization development. Currently, 104 volunteers serve in South Africa.

Since 1961, more than 171,000 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 two-year commitment.

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