Peace Corps Director Visits Volunteers in Morocco

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 12, 2005 Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez traveled to the Kingdom of Morocco last week where he met with officials and visited volunteers serving in a variety of Peace Corps programs, including health, small business enterprise, environment, and youth development.

Shortly after arriving in Morocco, Director Vasquez met with volunteers belonging to the SIDA Committee, a group focusing on the HIV/AIDS pandemic. With assistance from the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Peace Corps volunteers are developing counseling, health, and educational initiatives to promote awareness of the disease in rural communities. Many members of this committee were introduced to Director Vasquez, including Zachary Burt, of Sebastpol, Calif., who serves as president of the SIDA Committee, in addition to his assignment as a water and sanitation health volunteer.

In a meeting with the Minister of Health Dr. Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, Director Vasquez commented on his discussion with the SIDA Committee.

I was quite impressed by the volunteers from all program sectors who have formed a committee to address HIV/AIDS and appreciate the support of the Moroccan government, said Director Vasquez.

Minister Biadillah informed Director Vasquez that Morocco has a national program focused on HIV/AIDS, and from the outset, the highest authorities in the government have been involved.

I have had the opportunity to meet several Peace Corps volunteers and witness their great work, said Minister Biadillah. I am impressed by their attachment to Morocco and their devotion to the people. This is the result of the longstanding friendship between our two countries.

Director Vasquez also met with the Minister Delegate of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Taib Fassi Fihri. During the visit, Minister Delegate Fihri acknowledged the long, successful and collaborative history of the Peace Corps and Morocco, which dates back to the original agreement signed in 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and His Majesty King Hassan II.

Over the years, more than 3,500 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Morocco, and we consider them ambassadors for our country when they return to the United States, stated Minister Delegate Fihri. We are grateful for the support the volunteers provide to the people of Morocco, especially those in the rural areas.

Textiles are one of Moroccos most lucrative industries, and Director Vasquez had the opportunity to visit volunteers Elbert Hardeman and Gregg Johnson who are working with the artisans that produce rich fabrics. Hardeman, a Sacramento, Calif., native, is assisting craftsmen at the Handicraft Center of Tamesloht, a public facility that trains and houses local artisans. After meeting Hardeman and touring the facility, Director Vasquez was given a weaving demonstration by a member of the center.

Johnson is working with a similar handicraft cooperative in the Sefrou province. After previously serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Micronesia from 1969 to 1971, the Elizabethtown, Pa., native is now teaching basic business skills, helping a womens cooperative develop new projects, and co-producing a Moroccan craft catalogue with another Peace Corps volunteer. Johnson was recently approved for a two-year extension of service to continue his efforts in this community.

When asked why he has chosen to extend his service an additional two years, Johnson responded simply, Im getting to do what I love most in the world while working with incredible people. What more could I ask for.

Director Vasquez also traveled to the Tahanaout Youth Center where Jamie Costigan has been teaching English since December of 2003. In addition, Costigan, a Buxton, Maine native, is facilitating a library/activity center and organizing a girls development program. The Tahanaout Youth Center is one of 353 Youth Centers in Morocco managed by the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports thenter is one of 353 Youth Centers in Morocco managed by the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports that provide local children with a safe space to spend their free time.

One of Costigans students, a 20-year old native of the community, expressed her gratitude for the education she has received through the program by telling Director Vasquez in English: I want to thank the Peace Corps for sending Jamie to Tahanaout. I used to dream about learning and speaking English. Now, thanks to Jamie, my dreams are coming true.

The Peace Corps Environment Project seeks to reinforce the Government of Morocco\'s efforts in conservation initiatives and to aid rural populations in achieving a higher standard of living. Volunteers Christopher Wardell and Katherine McConnell met with Director Vasquez at their respective sites and discussed their roles as liaisons between park staff and the local people to assist with sustainable natural resource-based economic development projects. Wardell, of Helena, Mont., recently started his work with the Marigha Association for Development and Environmental Conservation, where he will be designing a management plan for a local gazelle and Barbary sheep reserve.

McConnell has been working with a local development organization since May 2004. Her activities have included grant-writing for new projects, such as a well the Director visited, that once it is complete, will have a profound impact on McConnells community, as they will no longer have to travel for hours on foot or by donkey to get water. In addition to these endeavors, McConnell is developing environmental education programs for the local schools.

Volunteers reentered Morocco in 2004 based on the successful 42-year history of the program, as well as the Moroccan people and governments strong support of the Peace Corps in the country. Morocco is one of five predominately Muslim countries that the Peace Corps either entered or reentered since 2003. Today, there are 143 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Morocco. Currently, 20 percent of Peace Corps volunteers serve in predominately Muslim countries. To learn more about Morocco, 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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