August 31, 2005: Headlines: Directors - Vasquez: Public Diplomacy: COS - Morocco: COS - Tanzania: COS - Madagascar: US Info: Vasquez is still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Directors of the Peace Corps: Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez: Gaddi Vasquez: Archived Stories: August 31, 2005: Headlines: Directors - Vasquez: Public Diplomacy: COS - Morocco: COS - Tanzania: COS - Madagascar: US Info: Vasquez is still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago

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Vasquez is still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago

Vasquez is still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago

"I visited two countries [Morocco and Madagascar] that were suspended in the past three and a half years [for political and security reasons], and both of those programs have come back strong," he said. "Morocco is now up to 142 volunteers and Madagascar is the seventh largest program in Africa."

Vasquez is still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago

Public Diplomacy at Heart of Peace Corps, Director Vasquez Says

Volunteers seek "to help people, build cross-cultural understanding"

By Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- By dedicating two years of their lives to living and working in foreign communities, thousands of young American volunteers in countries as varied as Ukraine and Madagascar are practicing "pure" public (people-to-people) diplomacy, says Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez.

"It is remarkable -- remarkable -- that the Peace Corps is in 72 countries, with different languages, cultures, climates, customs, traditions and values, Vasquez told the Washington File following his July 30-August 17 trip to Morocco, Madagascar and Tanzania.

"But all those volunteers have one thing in common," he said. "They embrace and believe in the development work they love to do in a very American 'can-do' way. And it rubs off on the community in which they've made a home for two years. Also, people are accepting because they realize these American volunteers come with no other agenda than to help people and build the cross-cultural understanding we need in our time."

Since the Peace Corps was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, 178,000 volunteers have served in 138 countries, helping to drill wells, operate health programs, give small business advice, and teach English and science in village schools as well as universities.

Currently, 7,700 Americans -- average age 28, but one volunteer is 82 -- work and live in communities in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Pacific Islands and Latin America. The largest contingent is in Ukraine, while an additional 2,700 volunteers serve in 26 African countries. In Asia, more than 50 volunteers will soon be traveling to communities in China to complement the 40 already there.

The Muslim world has long welcomed volunteers, Vasquez said, noting: "About 20 percent of Peace Corps volunteers are currently serving in 18 Muslim countries. These programs have been successful because the people have been very welcoming and the host country governments have been very encouraging and have supported our presence."

Vasquez was still energized by his visit to Africa -- the fifth since President Bush named him director more than three years ago. He called it unique because of examples of the Corps' sustainability and the incredible local popularity of some volunteers that he witnessed.

"I visited two countries [Morocco and Madagascar] that were suspended in the past three and a half years [for political and security reasons], and both of those programs have come back strong," he said. "Morocco is now up to 142 volunteers and Madagascar is the seventh largest program in Africa."

His stop In Morocco, one of 18 Muslim countries where the Peace Corps has programs, was significant, Vasquez said, because "we have valued it as a development partner for decades. We suspended the program there in 2003, but we committed ourselves to bringing back volunteers as soon as possible. We have done that, and now the program is enjoying great success."

In Morocco, Vasquez said, he met with top government officials "and it was unanimous that the work of the volunteers was valued and the relationship, which extends over four decades, is very much valued, and the country is requesting we expand the program and add more volunteers."

The high point of his visit to Tanzania, Vasquez said, was the meeting of Peace Corps country directors, which was attended by 23 directors of programs in Africa. "We had a very useful dialogue on information-sharing and how to better approach the challenges of things like the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

In Zanzibar, Vasquez met with health care volunteers Meredith Brooks and Charles Bellah, who hold workshops for local science teachers and health workers on ways to incorporate HIV/AIDS education in their classrooms and discussions. More than 1,800 volunteers have served in Tanzania since the Peace Corps began one of its earliest programs there in 1962.

Vasquez said a highlight of his stop in Madagascar was a visit with Peace Corps volunteer Nate Engle, who works on environmental projects. "But Nate has also got his people growing red rice and even set up a farmers' cooperative to market it. I saw the impact of his service one afternoon when we both strolled down the main street of his town. The enthusiastic way in which he was greeted just spoke volumes to me on the capacity of a volunteer to make a difference."

It made an impact, Vasquez said, because "it was a reminder that in that small community virtually every person knows there is an American who lives there and whose sole purpose for being there is to help his new neighbors improve their economic standing."

The success of the Peace Corps can be counted in many different ways, Vasquez concluded, "but the relationship-building -- putting a face on America the way Nate and others do -- is exactly what the Peace Corps is about and what our greatest legacy will be."





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Story Source: US Info

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Directors - Vasquez; Public Diplomacy; COS - Morocco; COS - Tanzania; COS - Madagascar

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