Liberian President Praises Returned Peace Corps Group
By Guest Contributor on Friday, June 15th, 2012
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told a standing room only crowd of staff and special guests at Peace Corps on June 11 that she wanted to personally thank “those who rose to the challenge by John Fitzgerald Kennedy to live and work in developing countries.” Peace Corps Volunteers have played a vital role in the special relationship between the United States and her country, she said.
“That is why I campaigned vigorously for Peace Corps’ return,” she said. “Because I knew what a difference they could make in the lives of our citizens.”
The President, who just won a second term, said that she especially wanted to thank the former Volunteers of the organization Friends of Liberia (FOL) who acted as “ambassadors for Liberia when we couldn’t be here” during the country’s 13-year civil war. She said she appreciated their continuing work for Liberia.
In 2009, twenty-seven Friends of Liberia members traveled to Liberia for three weeks. Although Peace Corps Volunteers had just returned to Liberia in 2008 (after an 18 year hiatus), the group had an extremely productive trip, divided into medical, educational and environmental teams. In the final week, the entire group had an hour-long visit with President Sirleaf, where they discussed future plans for FOL to work in and assist Liberia.
The medical group consisted of one doctor, three nurses, a medical librarian, a medical technologist and two social workers. In one week, Dr. Pam Branning delivered five babies by Cesarean section with the Ganta Mission Hospital team. Nurses conducted numerous classes and in-service training workshops with nursing students and hospital staff. The medical librarian and social workers hosted courses on using computers and the Internet and dealing with mental health care issues.
The seven-member education team worked in two elementary schools in Ganta, observing, coaching and teaching. They brought dozens of books and a variety of school supplies to share with the teachers. On the last day of the teachers’ week, the group conducted a training workshop and hosted a lunch for all the teachers at the two schools. FOL President Stephanie Vickers, a retired reading specialist, has led several teacher-training workshops throughout Liberia since 2001.
The 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate was invited to Peace Corps headquarters as part of the Loret Miller Ruppe Speakers Series. In introducing President Sirleaf, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams pointed out that as the President was flying into Washington, a new group of 35 Peace Corps Volunteers was headed to Liberia to train and take up their posts as secondary math and science teachers in the Fall.
President Sirleaf emphasized Liberia’s need to “rebuild human potential by investing in education.” For the first time in 20 years, Peace Corps Volunteers will be staffing the teacher training institutions in Liberia. She said she would ask even more of Peace Corps Volunteers. She urged them to help the lower grade students and their parents achieve literacy. She said that market women need to be literate in order to make transactions.
As she was speaking, she said, she imagined a national service program that would match the recent graduates of Liberia’s colleges with Peace Corps Volunteers to build young Liberians’ capacity to serve their country the way Peace Corps Volunteers do.
Peace Corps Volunteers currently teach in 9 of Liberia’s 13 counties in 34 government run high schools. By August 2013, there will be a Peace Corps teacher in all 55 government high schools.
NPCA affiliate Friends of Liberia, the 25-year-old service organization started by former Volunteers, has been doing in-service teacher training workshops for early childhood educators since 1999. They have taught teachers and principals from 150 schools in central Liberia how to use developmentally appropriate methods to teach the youngest Liberian learners. To learn more about their Liberian Education Assistance Project, go to www.FOL.org.
Thank you to Patricia Reilly for this story, with contribution by NPCA Commmunications Intern Sarah Kana.