African Leaders Summit: Peace Corps celebrates relationships and new climate change initiative

Thomas Peng with staff at Africa Leaders Summit in DC in 2022.
By Adrienne Benson
Dec. 15, 2022

The African Leaders Summit (ALS) kicked off in Washington, D.C., on December 13 with over 50 African presidents, prime ministers, ministers of foreign affairs, and even the head of the African Union gathering for a three-day event.

The Peace Corps, of course, has a deep relationship with the continent of Africa, which, historically, has been the region to boast the majority of Peace Corps Volunteers. Those with some knowledge of Peace Corps history will also know that the Peace Corps started in Africa — with the very first cohort of Volunteers arriving in Ghana in the summer of 1961. It makes sense than, that the Peace Corps was directly involved in the ALS, and took part on several levels — from meetings with African heads-of-state to being included in high-level partnerships and new initiatives.

For the Peace Corps, the ALS started a day early, on Monday, when Peace Corps Chief Executive Officer Thomas Peng met with the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Ntsokoane Samuel Matekane. The partnership between Lesotho and the Peace Corps began in 1967 and since then, more than 2,600 Volunteers have served there. Peng and Matekane discussed a range of bilateral issues, including current Peace Corps Lesotho operations, the long-standing relationship between the Peace Corps and the government of Lesotho, and Lesotho’s developmental goals.

In today’s post-pandemic new normal, both emphasized the importance of Volunteers working side-by-side with local partners on COVID-19 prevention and control efforts. Also, as part of the ALS, a film highlighting the agency’s relationships and history with the African continent was showcased at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. It was open and available to the public and was used to raise awareness about Peace Corps and recruit potential candidates.

A major theme of the ALS was climate change. At the African and Diaspora Young Leaders Forum — an auxiliary event to the ALS — held on Tuesday, a group of about 50 young Black Americans and their peers from African countries discussed their worries about and solutions to climate change.

Michael Regan, the first Black American to head the Environmental Protection Agency, addressed the attendees by saying, “Young people have always been at the forefront of movements to change, and the environmental movement is absolutely no exception.” Regan then announced the United States would allocate $4 million for Peace Corps Volunteers to work on projects combatting climate change in 24 Sub-Saharan African countries.

In the earliest days of the Peace Corps, neither Volunteers nor agency leaders could have anticipated the critical work needed to mitigate the effects of global warming, but Volunteers are known for flexibility and the ability to pivot and address needs as they arise.

Over the next year, with this newly allocated funding, the Peace Corps will launch a climate initiative that will include support for Volunteers and staff in up to 24 sub-Saharan African countries. As many as 700 Volunteers will work with host country partners to contribute to national priorities and plans to address climate change. Volunteers and their host communities will work together to increase adaptive capacities and build resilience of individuals, organizations, communities and ecosystems, as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. Some specific projects will include promoting climate-smart agriculture practices, developing community tree nurseries, promoting tree growing, and increasing climate literacy through environmental education.

The Peace Corps Climate Change Initiative is part of a U.S.-Africa Partnership to support conservation, climate adaptation, and a just energy Transition. The partnership includes several other U.S. government agencies including the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the United States Trade and Development Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of State, and both U.S. and African-based nongovernmental organizations.

As the ALS continues, the Peace Corps will host leaders of other African countries who have relationships with the agency, including Ghana, that first-ever Peace Corps partner. Although the Peace Corps is still working to safely return Volunteers to all the communities it served before the global evacuation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ALS is solid evidence that the agency never stops working on its mission of world peace and friendship. This week in Washington was one of building and sustaining solid connections with partner nation leaders and energizing the agency to move forward towards the future with new tools, new ideas, and reinvigorated ways to collaborate with partner nations.

The author, Adrienne Benson