Peace Corps Participates in Walk the Nation in Swaziland

Volunteers and Staff team up with NERCHA and UNICEF to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS

MBABANE, SWAZILAND March 10, 2008 - Peace Corps Volunteers in the Kingdom of Swaziland have been working diligently to support the Walk the Nation program in partnership with the NERCHA and UNICEF. The twelve-day walk seeks to mobilize communities across the Kingdom of Swaziland to take the lead in the fight against the HIV & AIDS epidemic.

Peace Corps Volunteers have been preparing for the event over the last few months by earning support of government officials, recruiting walkers in their villages, clearing the routes, and coordinating activities. Peace Corps Volunteers organized the event registration and have been cooking daily meals for the walkers and measuring the impact of the walk in the local communities.

Walk the Nation began in Mhlumeni and will end in Sicunusa on Thursday, March 13. Walk the Nation organizers estimate that 100,000 rural residents will participate and be reached through this 12-day campaign. The walkers are moving from border-to-border, 200 kilometers in total, as part of a grassroots campaign for HIV/ AIDS prevention. The purpose of this unprecedented campaign is to promote HIV testing and counseling and to decrease the stigma related to HIV in Swaiziland. According to statistics released in 2005, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence in the world with an infection rate of adults (ages 15 to 49) at 42.6 percent, and, approximately 70,000 children orphaned as a result of AIDS.

Prime Minister of Swaziland, Themba Dlamini, participated in the opening ceremony and sendoff. Prime Minister Dlamini also presented the walkers with a Walk the Nation Journal to document how people of rural Swaziland are affected by HIV and AIDS. In addition to the support of the Prime Minister, Walk the Nation has received considerable support from community and non-governmental organizations, and the collaboration of more than 20 partner agencies.

Since 2003, the Peace Corps has been assisting the government of the Kingdom of Swaziland in implementing its national strategy on HIV/AIDS risk reduction and impact mitigation. Currently 38 Volunteers are serving in Swaziland in an HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation program in the underserved, rural areas. This program includes training teachers and community members in life skills aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention, initiating and promoting programs in HIV/AIDS awareness, identifying partnerships and resource alliances to fight the epidemic, strengthening existing HIV/AIDS intervention strategies and activities, mobilizing communities to respond to the effects of HIV/AIDS, and working with in-school and out-of-school youth.

The Peace Corps was first invited to work in Swaziland in 1969, a few months after the country gained independence from Great Britain. From 1969 until 1996, 1,400 Volunteers served in Swaziland teaching English, mathematics, computer programming, science, vocational education projects and agriculture in secondary schools, and also worked with agricultural cooperatives and communities involved in urban planning.

To learn more about Peace Corps/Swaziland, visit the Where Do Volunteers Go? web page.

The Peace Corps is celebrating a 47-year legacy of service at home and abroad, and a 37-year high for Volunteers in the field. Since 1961, more than 187,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries where Volunteers have served, including Swaziland. 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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