History of the Peace Corps in Peru
The Peace Corps first opened a program in Peru in 1962. Over the next 13 years, some 2,600 Volunteers worked in health and nutrition, city planning, social work, agricultural extension, agricultural cooperatives, savings and loan associations, elementary and secondary education, community development, and earthquake reconstruction (after the severe earthquake and landslide of 1970). The Peace Corps had a main office in Lima and regional offices in Puno, Cuzco, Chimbote, and Arequipa. Peace Corps’ departure from Peru in 1975 was due to political and economic instability.
In 2001, then-President Alejandro Toledo invited the Peace Corps to return. As well as seeing Peace Corps as part of his development plan for the country, President Toledo had a personal relationship with the Peace Corps. When he was young, his family had hosted a Volunteer in their home in Chimbote. Volunteers taught him English and were instrumental in his attending college and graduate school in the United States. President Toledo also worked at the Peace Corps training center in California, teaching Spanish while he was going to college.
Teams from Peace Corps headquarters made assessment visits to Peru in late 2001 and early 2002, and a country agreement was signed in Lima on March 23, 2002. The Peace Corps was represented by its then-director, Gaddi Vasquez. Staff was deployed to Lima in May 2002. The first four Volunteers, third-year transferees from other Latin American countries, arrived in August 2002. They were followed by the first new group of Volunteers, who arrived for training in November and were sworn-in in February 2003. A second group arrived in September 2003. Since then, two new groups of trainees arrive to serve in Peru each year.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Peru
Peru is a poor country with significant development challenges. According to USAID, 48 percent of the population lives below the official poverty line (U.S. $58 per month), with 18 percent living in extreme poverty (under U.S. $32 per month). Peru is plagued by high unemployment (around 10 percent) and underemployment (estimated at 43 percent). Health indicators show that large sectors of the population suffer from nutritional deficiencies (24 percent of children are chronically malnourished), a high infant mortality rate (43 per 1,000 in rural areas), and limited access to basic healthcare services.
Although Peruvians take pride in their country’s rich biodiversity, in practice there is little environmental ethic. Few activities are being implemented to preserve natural resources, and in some cases severe degradation is taking place.
Youth are seriously affected by Peru’s economic situation. Many children are sent to the streets to sell candy or find other ways to earn a few coins a day. Facilities that serve orphaned, abandoned, or abused children provide little more than food and shelter, and the residents become instantly unemployed when they leave at age 18. Even among less disadvantaged low-income youth, there is often a feeling of hopelessness and low self-esteem that can lead to drug abuse and crime.
Based upon these realities, the Peace Corps program in Peru is focused on four sectors: small business development, community health, youth development, and environmental awareness. All Peace Corps activities are directed toward providing people at the community level with the knowledge, tools, and capacities to help them improve their own lives.
In the small business development project, Volunteers help agricultural associations, artisan groups, and other small business owners improve their net incomes by enhancing their marketing links to urban and export markets, and by strengthening their management and accounting practices. Volunteers also look for creative ways to integrate information technology into small business management.
In the community health project, Volunteers promote preventive healthcare practices. They train and work side-by-side with community health promoters, health post staff, parents, and community members. Preventive healthcare practices include basic hygiene, nutrition education (including promoting family gardens), disease prevention, and maternal and infant care.
In the youth development project, Volunteers work with orphanages, centers for street-children, schools, health posts, and other youth-serving organizations in programs to develop vocational skills, self-esteem, life skills, and components of good citizenship.
In the environmental awareness project, Volunteers work in small towns and rural communities on environmental education, recycling campaigns, and conservation of protected areas.
In all its projects, the Peace Corps works closely with Peruvian counterpart agencies to help the agencies achieve their goals. These agencies include government ministries, local municipalities, and a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).