THE United States (US) Peace Corps marked 50 years of friendship with Basotho yesterday with the swearing in of 60 new volunteers at Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village bringing the number of volunteers currently in the country to 118.
The ceremony was attended by His Majesty King Letsie III and Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, Peace Corps deputy director of global operations Meredith Giordano, the United States of America Ambassador to Lesotho Rebecca Gonzales and the Minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi among other dignitaries.
In his keynote address, His Majesty King Letsie III expressed gratitude to the Peace Corps for the half a decade of corporation with Lesotho saying the partnership has uplifted the lives of Basotho tremendously.
“During the 50-year period that we celebrate today, Lesotho has benefited immensely from the services that have been rendered by the Peace Corps in critical areas of health and education,” His Majesty King Letsie III said.
“The contribution to our country’s development by former Peace Corps is also noted and much appreciated.”
He commended programmes like the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative established by former volunteers which supplies over 500 000 meals to children that suffer severe malnutrition annually.
His Majesty King Letsie III also expressed gratitude to former Peace Corps volunteers who formed the group The Friends of Lesotho which raises funds towards the tuition fees of vulnerable children.
For her part, Ms Giordano said since the Peace Corps programme started, more than 2500 volunteers have worked in Lesotho.
“Together with their Basotho colleagues, the Peace Corps volunteers have been working since 1967 to uplift socio-economic conditions and improve health and education outcomes for people in some of the remotest parts of the country and urban centres alike,” Ms Giordano said.
She said since 2003, Peace Corps has also become an integral part of the US President’s Emergency Response for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US government’s comprehensive global response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic globally.
For her part, Ms Gonzales said the anniversary was the celebration of a milestone.
“We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Basotho across the country who support our volunteers their colleagues and collaborators, their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and friends and together, we are contributing to the goal of improving the quality of education, health, and opportunities for young people in Lesotho.”
Ms Gonzales said Peace Corps volunteers in the health programme work with their Basotho counterparts in communities, schools and health facilities to empower adolescents with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to achieve the promise of an AIDS free generation.
She said volunteers organise fun, interactive and age-appropriate activities that encourage participation and create safe spaces for adolescents to learn and share their experiences while building self-esteem and developing life skills. Activities cover a range of topics including HIV prevention, drug adherence, stigma, gender equity, gender-based violence, healthy living among others.
She added that at the same time, education volunteers collaborate with their counterparts to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Lesotho’s education system.
Ms Gonzales said the priority areas, identified by the Ministry of Education and Training are English language and literature in primary schools and mathematics in high schools.
Besides classroom instruction in English and Math disciplines, education volunteers focus their efforts in HIV and AIDS mitigation strategies by teaching life skills classes and facilitating Youth HlV and AIDS camps within their immediate communities and beyond.
Representative of the first generation of volunteers in Lesotho, Lois Maselloane Sebatane, shared her experiences while she was a volunteer in 1968.
She said at the time she was a maths and science teacher in Qacha’s Neck and was only given M70 horse allowance.
She said at the time Lesotho had no paved roads and had only few cars while there were only seven schools without electricity.
“Things are different now but the work of the Peace Corps is still the same,” Ms Sebatane said adding that volunteers must always dress appropriately and be respectful.