Peace Corps Volunteers Return Safely to Lesotho; Country is Calm, Volunteers Eager to Work
October 13, 1998Washington, D.C., October 13, 1998—Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan announced today that the Peace Corps volunteers and staff who were temporarily evacuated from Lesotho two weeks ago have now returned safely to the southern African country. "After extensively reviewing the situation in Lesotho, and after consulting with American Embassy officials, we have determined that Lesotho is once again safe for our volunteers," said Gearan. "There are plans for future elections, and continuing regional support exists from neighboring countries."
Peace Corps volunteers and staff had been evacuated on September 25 after fighting broke out in the capital city of Maseru between rebel soldiers and government troops. Much of the business district in Maseru was looted and burned.
For the last two weeks, the volunteers had been in Pretoria participating in training workshops while they waited to learn if they would return to Lesotho. Today, there are 49 Peace Corps volunteers in Maseru who will travel to their sites on Thursday. Twenty-three of the remaining volunteers, including 15 who were scheduled to finish their service in December, opted to end their service early, and left Pretoria today. Three other volunteers have been transferred to other countries in Africa, two to Tanzania and the other to Ghana.
Volunteers in Lesotho work in education, agriculture, and rural development. Lesotho is a landlocked, mountainous country that is completely surrounded by South Africa; it is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland with a population of 2 million people.
Currently, about 6,500 Peace Corps volunteers are working in 80 countries to bring clean water to communities, teach children, protect the environment, help start new businesses, and prevent the spread of AIDS. Since 1961, more than 150,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps.