September 2, 2002 - Department of State: Peace Corps Helping to Improve Lives in Rural South Africa

Peace Corps Online: Directory: South Africa: Peace Corps South Africa : The Peace Corps in South Africa: September 2, 2002 - Department of State: Peace Corps Helping to Improve Lives in Rural South Africa

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Peace Corps Helping to Improve Lives in Rural South Africa

Peace Corps Helping to Improve Lives in Rural South Africa

Peace Corps Helping to Improve Lives in Rural South Africa

By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Correspondent

Grass-roots development agency works through partnerships

Johannesburg, South Africa -- The U.S. Peace Corps is working with public and private partnerships to help improve the lives of poor people in three rural provinces of South Africa.

South Africa is the site of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which is stressing partnerships and community-based development. Peace Corps has been working in grass-roots development in Africa since 1961 when the first group of volunteers arrived in Ghana. WSSD is meeting through September 4.

"Virtually all of our work is through informal and formal partnerships," Yvonne Hubbard, Peace Corps' director in South Africa, said from her office in Pretoria. The agency is partnering with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control, the Atlanta-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Sister Love, and many local NGOs such as LoveLife in its efforts to build the capacity of local NGOs to teach people about HIV/AIDS and its prevention and to provide counseling to AIDS patients and their families.

With volunteers in South Africa since 1997, the program is still "very young," Hubbard said, and likely to be in the country several more years, expanding to more regions outside the major cities. Currently there are 65 volunteers and 32 volunteer trainees in the country. Many are mid-career professionals and retirees. The oldest volunteer is 71; the youngest is 23.

Hubbard said that with more "older" volunteers -- the average age of the group is 37 -- the volunteers are making progress in HIV community outreach. "People who are a little older are able to bring together seniors, youth, men and women in a room to talk openly about AIDS and its prevention," she said.

"Three years ago people just wouldn't talk about AIDS," she added.

To address the worldwide AIDS problem, all Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) now working in the 70 countries the agency serves receive HIV/AIDS training, regardless of their primary assignment such as agriculture, forestry, education or small business development.

PCVs' interaction with all members of a community "is what Peace Corps does so well," Hubbard said.

She said the volunteers in South Africa -- blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics -- reflect America's diversity and demonstrate that interaction among all types of people is possible. "The volunteers show people in their host communities that they can live and work together in a harmonized world," Hubbard said.

Peace Corps/South Africa provides services in remote areas not served by any other groups, with improvements in education among its projects. PCVs train teachers in classroom management and demonstrate new teaching methods in math, science and English, subjects not typically taught to black children during apartheid. Volunteers are also working with a group of schools to help them prepare to implement a new national curriculum by 2005.

Hubbard said volunteers work diligently in a variety of "classrooms" ranging from a space in the open air beneath a tree to a room crowded with 98 students.

The Peace Corps in South Africa is also involved in Peace Corps' partnership project. Peace Corps Partnership links private contributions from individuals and organizations with a specific community project overseen by a PCV, such as building a school or well, or supplying textbooks. The community is required to provide 25 percent of the project cost, giving it ownership, Hubbard said.

"The work Peace Corps volunteers are doing in South Africa is tremendous," Hubbard said.

Peace Corps currently serves in 23 countries in Africa, 8 countries in Central and East Asia, 13 countries in Europe and the Mediterranean, 16 countries in Inter-America and the Carribbean and 7 countries in the Pacific. The agency plans to double to 14,000 volunteers by the end of 2007.

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Story Source: Department of State

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