After an 18-year hiatus, United States Peace Corps volunteers will be returning to Liberia. On Sunday, 12 educational specialists will fly to Liberia's capital Monrovia. They will be sworn in during a formal ceremony on Monday attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had personally asked US President George W. Bush to reinstate the time-honored program, which was launched during the administration of President John F. Kennedy. More than 44-hundred American volunteers served in Liberia between 1962 and 1990, when operations were curtailed due to Liberia's civil war. Peace Corps director Ron Tschetter says that President Sirleaf has requested educational specialists to focus on training teachers and reviving Liberia's libraries, higher education, parent-teacher channels of communication, and stepped up health care.
"President Sirleaf asked for us to bring some education skills sets to be able to train and prepare Liberians to be teachers. So we're doing this via a program we call the Peace Corps Response Program. And that program takes return Peace Corps volunteers, who have said 'we're willing to go again, howbeit we'd rather go for a shorter period of time than the full two years.' And so we went to our database and returned volunteers who have raised their hands with a willingness to serve and look for skill sets in the area of education and the ability to train teachers," he said.
The experienced American advisers, who range in age from 25 to 68, intend to serve in Liberia during the current academic school year, which ends in June, 2009. Director Tschetter says a second team of 22 education specialists will be in place for Liberia's 2009-2010 academic year.
"Right now, the plans for that group will be very similar to the group that's going over Sunday, which will be an eight or a nine-month tour. And then hopefully, we'll begin soon after that to progress to a full-fledged two-year program and be looking for volunteers in the various programs that the country might request," notes Tschetter, who recalls that beginning in the 1960's, American Peace Corps advisers ran development projects that helped Liberians achieve progress in their homes, farms, business entrepreneurships, public works, and technological pursuits.
"At its peak, we had 400 volunteers in the country. And they were working in about five different areas of specialization: education, health, agriculture, community development, and small enterprise work as well. Some of these programs may enter the scene as we progress with our work in Liberia over the next three or four years," he said.
With a new period of stable government under the leadership of President Sirleaf, who was elected three years ago, relations between Washington and Monrovia have focused on helping Liberia improve its infrastructure and overcome a very large foreign debt burden. President Bush visited Monrovia in February and has warmly welcomed President Sirleaf on several visits to Washington since she took office.
During a White House meeting yesterday, the visiting Liberian leader exchanged views with President Bush on US support for Liberia's development agenda. Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter says that although he also met Wednesday with President Sirleaf, the timing of his announcement of a resumption of Peace Corps activities in her country was not planned in advance to coincide with her current visit.