Peace Corps Response Volunteers Teach Music, Art at Conservatory in Benin

Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, 2011 John Mark Feilmeyer of Guthrie Center, Iowa, and Sarah Ellison of Huntington Beach, Calif., are serving as Peace Corps Response volunteers in Benin. They teach children and local artists at the Ouidah International Center of Art and Music (CIAMO).

Feilmeyer has been working at CIAMO since October 2010, teaching music lessons to young students and supporting local artists in their professional development. Ellison arrived in January 2011 to teach art classes. Both served as Peace Corps volunteers in Benin from 2008 to 2010.

Im part of a project that is paving the way for arts education in Africa, says Feilmeyer. These students are excited and they learn quickly. Im working with the next Mozarts, Beethovens, Rembrandts, and Picassos. In the evenings, Im meeting with artists who might become the new Michael Jackson or John Lennon.

To see a video of CIAMO, visit:

In the first year of its operation, teachers at CIAMO teach primary school students basic art and music, and develop a curriculum they will share with teachers. They also offer local artists the opportunity to take professional development classes taught by well-known artists. Eventually, CIAMO hopes to facilitate an exchange between international artists, local artists, and students. Those interested in African music and design will be able to come to the center, share their craft with the students, and collaborate with local artists to learn local rhythms and harmonic structures.

The promotion of art and music in Africa could do wonders for its development. It will encourage everyone working in development to think outside of the box to create new answers to old problems, says Feilmeyer.

Peace Corps Response provides opportunities for returned Peace Corps volunteers to undertake short-term, high-impact assignments in various programs around the world. Volunteers have the opportunity to serve again by utilizing their skills and experience in places where they are needed the most.

Nearly 1,750 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Benin since the program was established in 1968. Volunteers in this West African nation work in the areas of education, environmental and agricultural conservation, health and HIV/AIDS awareness, business development, and information technology. Volunteers are trained and work in the following languages: Aja, Ani, Bariba, Biali, Dendi, Ditamari, Fon, French, Fula, Goun, Idatcha, Mahi, Lokpa, Mina, Nagot, Nateni, Sola, Wama, Yende, Yoruba, and Zarma. There are currently 111 volunteers serving in Benin.

About the Peace Corps: President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world throughout 2011. Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries. Today, 8,655 volunteers are working with local communities in 77 host countries. 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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