History of the Peace Corps in South Africa
The Peace Corps arrived in South Africa at a historic and critical juncture in the country’s history. At a White House ceremony in October 1994, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela met to seal a bond of friendship and a promise to work together to transform South Africa from a divided nation to one united by its commitment to build a democratic, nonracially based society. The Peace Corps was a small but important part of that agreement. The first group of 35 Volunteers arrived in January 1997 to work in the education sector. Since that time, more than 200 Volunteers have served or are serving in South Africa. In 2001, Peace Corps/South Africa responded to the government’s request to join in a partnership against HIV/AIDS. In addition to serving as resources for primary school educators, Volunteers now assist local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in building their capacity to meet the demands of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Currently, about 85 Volunteers work in education and with NGOs.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in South Africa
Peace Corps/South Africa focuses on two main areas of vital need: education and NGO development. Within these areas, projects have evolved based on project assessments and the needs of the government, organizations, and communities with which we work. Currently, Volunteers are working in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal provinces.
Peace Corps/South Africa began implementing its school and community resource project in 1997. Volunteers work with district and circuit educational offices to instill a culture of learning, teaching, and service in schools and disadvantaged communities. To be most effective, this project operates in predominantly black, rural primary schools in villages and townships.
Each school resource Volunteer works with a cluster of three or four schools serving 40 to 50 teachers and administrators. Volunteers are placed at the primary school level, where they facilitate the understanding and skills of teachers involved in the continued rollout of the new national outcomes-based curriculum, aid school management teams in building capacities related to effective administration, and seek to creatively involve parents and community members in a mutually reinforcing relationship with schools. In addition, school resource Volunteers are involved in activities to help their communities, such as environmental projects, HIV/AIDS education, computer training, income-generating projects, and youth development.
The NGO capacity-building project began in 2001 in response to the growing challenges that HIV/AIDS poses for the South African government and civil society. This project offers a unique opportunity to play a significant role in the development of peri-urban South Africa, putting Volunteers at the forefront of the country’s response to the epidemic. Volunteers are placed with NGOs in all four provinces to provide HIV/AIDS services at the grassroots level.
The goal is to help these organizations become more effective and sustainable while increasing the provision of HIV/AIDS services to communities in need. Volunteers provide advice to NGOs on how to improve the quality and effectiveness of their programs and services, mentor NGO staff, and introduce or strengthen creative approaches to resource identification and mobilization.