History of the Peace Corps in Suriname
In 1994, the Peace Corps received a formal invitation from the Government of Suriname to establish a program in the country. It asked for the Peace Corps’ assistance in rural community development of the interior Amerindian and African/Maroon communities. The formal agreement between the United States and Suriname was signed in January 1995.
Peace Corps staff arrived in March 1995. The first two Volunteers—with two years of Volunteer experience in another country—arrived in August. In September 1995, the first training group, consisting of eight married couples, began the Peace Corps’ 12-week intensive pre-service training program (PST). Since then, a new group has arrived annually.
The Peace Corps/Suriname program has changed since its start in 1995. In 1998, Suriname welcomed the first single Volunteers into the program, and in 1999, Volunteers were placed for the first time in the capital to work with health agencies on health issues facing rural communities. Peace Corps/Suriname began using a community-based training model in 1999.
Peace Corps/Suriname collaborates directly with various Surinamese government agencies in assigning Volunteers to rural communities. In addition to the Ministry of Regional Development (RGD), the Peace Corps works with the Bureau of Public Health and the Ministries of Education, Health, and Natural Resources. Through memoranda of understanding, Peace Corps Volunteers in Suriname also have worked with organizations such as UNICEF, the Foundation for Education of the Moravian Church, the Medical Mission, and the World Wildlife Fund.
During the Peace Corps’ first five years in Suriname, Volunteers were assigned to the rural community development project, serving in most regions of the country. This project aimed to improve the quality of life in rural communities by assisting residents in assessing and prioritizing their needs, rebuilding and improving community infrastructure, accessing outside resources, increasing income-generation opportunities, and strengthening local women’s and youth groups. Peace Corps Volunteers facilitated the construction and renovation of schools and medical clinics as well as the creation of libraries. They helped villages develop clean water systems, latrines, after-school and during-school enrichment programs, and small enterprise development, including the installation of rice and cassava mills and bakeries. Villagers were empowered to develop proposals that successfully obtained funding from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, and banks and other financial institutions to finance village projects. More importantly, Volunteers helped develop the capacity of their communities and organizations to conduct organizational planning and project management beyond the Volunteers’ terms of service.
In 2006, Peace Corps, with the support of the government of Suriname, began two new projects: community health education (CHE) and micro-enterprise and tourism development (MED). The purpose of the CHE project is to improve the general health status of community members (men, women, boys and girls) in all targeted communities through health prevention education and capacity building in the areas of nutrition, water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS.
The purpose of the MED project is to help the people of Suriname improve their lives by working with government and NGOs to transfer business knowledge, skills and abilities. The focus of the program is income generation, agri-business, and ecotourism.
Future of Peace Corps Programming in Suriname
Over the past few years, it has become evident that activities in the health and micro-enterprise sectors have brought the most satisfaction to Peace Corps Volunteers and made the greatest impact on the Surinamese people. Ninety percent of Volunteers serving in Suriname have participated in one or more activities involving non-formal education, health education and income-generation activities.
Volunteer activities in community health education include, but are not limited to:
- Working together with schools, local organizations and groups on nutrition projects
- Working with schools, women, and youth to develop family gardens and school gardens
- Assisting in providing basic hygiene education to preschool children
- Assisting in the implementation of basic life skills and preventive healthcare activities for youth and adults
- Organizing “clean-up days” in local communities
- Promoting use of latrines
- Instructing and training on how to build and maintain latrines
- Conducting hygiene education programs and classes
- Developing and training water committees
- Assisting in the training of parents and community leaders to conduct non-formal education programs in their communities
- Assisting in the development of the community’s capacity to plan and implement non-formal education programs
- Teaching HIV/AIDS education and prevention
- Training and educating peer groups
- Organizing and conducting nonformal adult education programs and project development and management (PDM) trainings Volunteer activities in micro-enterprise and tourism development include, but are not limited to:
- Assisting adults in improving their income generating skills
- Assisting youth in strengthening their personal marketability to improve their employability and/or strengthen their entrepreneurial spirit
- Training young entrepreneurs in developing entrepreneurial skills
- Training youth in life skills
- Training youth and community leaders in the use and benefits of information and communications technology
- (ICT) for employment
- Training youth to improve their employability and linkages with the Surinamese business world
- Working with communities to develop and expand agrobusiness opportunities
- Working with community leaders to conduct participatory planning processes in their communities with identified tourism potential
- Training micro-enterprises on development and improvement of specific tourist attractions and services
More than 250 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Suriname, and 35 are currently serving in the country. Peace Corps/Suriname hopes to welcome approximately 24 new Volunteers in 2007, most of whom will be placed in rural or peri-urban communities.
Peace Corps/Suriname recruits both singles and couples. Married Volunteers are encouraged to draw upon special individual or combined technical skills they have to develop additional activities in areas such as environmental education, agriculture, health, and nutrition. Roughly 95 percent of the Volunteer population in Suriname is unmarried.