Many of the countries in the Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region are undergoing rapid economic and social changes while striving to play a larger part in the global economy. Challenges to this growth include outdated technology, unstable monetary systems, and the growing pains associated with adapting to free- market economies. Volunteers in the EMA region have worked to support growth and stability by assisting with strengthening English language teaching, offering practical business skills, generating environmental awareness, and improving health education. More than 50,128 Volunteers have served in the region since 1961. At the end of fiscal year (FY) 2007, EMA expects to have 2,088 Volunteers and trainees working in 19 countries.
The safety and security of the Volunteers and staff are the top priority in the EMA region. Training is an important component to ensuring that Volunteers are aware of safety and security policies and procedures. The region recognizes that safety is best assured when Volunteers are integrated into their local communities, respected and protected as extended family members, and viewed as contributors to development. Each country monitors safety and security according to agency guidelines. In 2006, the region’s programs in East Timor and Bangladesh were suspended for safety and security reasons, and subsequently closed.
Volunteers play many roles and work in a variety of settings, working with governments, local organizations, and communities to provide needed technical expertise and to promote cross-cultural understanding in programmatic areas identified as critical in each host country.
All Peace Corps countries in the EMA region have identified education as a priority. Volunteers are part of national and local efforts to strengthen primary, secondary, and university education capacity through classroom instruction, professional development for teachers, and by promoting resource and community development. Volunteers help students develop their English language competence as well as critical thinking skills. Through team-teaching and teacher training courses and workshops, Volunteers help new and experienced instructors learn new teaching methodologies and provide ongoing support that boosts teachers’ confidence and fluency to provide more interactive, learner-centered instruction.
Volunteers and host teachers work collaboratively to develop curricula and materials for special education, environmental awareness, American studies, and other content-based courses. They facilitate lessons and extra-curricular activities that focus on life skills, decision-making, healthy choices, and developing personal and professional skills. They work alongside people of diverse ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic status to explore individual and community needs. These needs include learning how to use computers or acquiring employment skills, organizing sports teams, upgrading local facilities, writing résumés, or preparing for international competitions. Volunteers are often catalysts for getting youth, teachers, and community members involved in service learning as they reach out to people in orphanages, hospitals, minority villages, and centers for the displaced, homeless, and those with special needs.
During the last 10 years, business projects have evolved from those focused on promoting small business startups and consulting to projects that work broadly with business issues—with entrepreneurs, governmental and nongovernmental agencies, educational institutions, community groups, and individuals.
Volunteers live in their communities for two years, so they are uniquely able to integrate themselves and earn the trust and respect needed to be accepted as valued partners and mentors. Earning that trust is particularly vital to business development Volunteers who consult on what are often basic issues of money, planning, and survival. There is a wide diversity in EMA countries, so some Volunteers work with illiterate villagers while others work in countries about to join the European Union (EU). Regardless, in each country, Volunteers use formal and nonformal education to help community members build basic business skills, improve communication, network, develop organizational capacity, access and use available technologies, and develop life skills.
Business development Volunteers are engaged at the grassroots level in their respective countries, working increasingly with underserved populations, women, and youth. They also work across sectors when their business and organizational skills complement those of health, environment, and education Volunteers. Issues of sustainability, transparency, and community participation continue to guide project development, particularly as posts seek to work in more rural areas with great needs and few resources.
Peace Corps projects in the region continue to explore the integration of information and communication technology (ICT) at all levels of project planning and implementation, and Volunteers make major contributions toward closing the global “digital divide.” They provide guidance to communities on incorporating ICT into business, education, and community development projects. Capacity-building efforts concentrate primarily on training people to use basic software applications, such as word processing, spreadsheets, and databases. While many Volunteers conduct skill-building exercises, others expand their work by focusing on training of trainers. Several Volunteers specifically incorporate activities that promote girls’ and women’s use of technology. Volunteers have also established Volunteer-led ICT committees and taught community members to use videos, newsletters, and audiotapes in product development.
A Volunteer in Jordan, working with the teacher in a special education school, used computers to enhance the school’s curriculum and training. Using a small project assistance grant, three computers and peripheral equipment were purchased and training sessions scheduled. After receiving basic computer training, the teachers trained their students to use the computers. The teachers are using computer technology to monitor attendance, send out correspondence, and develop new curricula, and the students, all of whom have special needs, are accessing academic programs on the computers and using them for self-directed study.
Half the population is younger than 25 in more than half of the countries of the EMA region. Consequently, youth development activities are increasingly important. Projects that develop the assets and capacities of young people are underway in Bulgaria, Jordan, Mongolia, Morocco, the Philippines, and Ukraine. It is more critical than ever for young people to have positive channels of economic, social, and political opportunities. Volunteers help young people and their communities view youth as an important asset in facilitating positive change. They engage and prepare youth for their roles within family life, the workforce, and as active citizens. Important areas of activity include life- skills training for employment, entrepreneurship, and leadership; and promoting tolerance, self-esteem, and conflict resolution. In one emerging area, Volunteers are working with youth on journalism-related activities and partnering with youth on community development projects. In all of the areas in which Volunteers work with youth, they advocate for youth participation in their communities using effective methods such as service-learning programs.
Many Volunteers work with young people in the classroom or through after-school clubs to support school-to-work transitions and to make learning relevant to real-life priorities. Some Volunteers use English language instruction in camps or clubs to teach important life skills. Other Volunteers work with marginalized young people to build their capacity to create a positive future in a region where human trafficking, street children, drug and alcohol use, prostitution, and lack of schooling plague youth.
Health Volunteers in the EMA region continue to educate individuals, households, service providers, and communities about the importance of health promotion and disease prevention. In addition to other sector area projects with health components, Albania, Armenia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, and Turkmenistan support distinct health projects that emphasize preventive health education as an important component of healthy lifestyles and improved quality of life. Volunteers and their counterparts strengthen different aspects of health education not only at health clinics and hospitals, but also in day-care centers, schools and universities, and local community organizations. Their assignments encompass the design of health education materials as well as the delivery of these messages with an emphasis on behavior change. Health education topics include pre-and post-natal care, personal and environmental hygiene, nutrition and food security, and preventing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Working in schools, with youth groups, and with nonprofit organizations, Volunteers promote a greater understanding of local ecology and environmental issues. Although the specific issues addressed in these projects vary greatly among countries, there is some overlap in activity types, as Volunteers increase awareness through eco-clubs, camps, and tree-planting campaigns. Volunteers also address coastal issues, recycling, and small animal husbandry. They help improve cook stoves and train park guides. Volunteers who teach English as a second language (TEFL) also take on environmental awareness projects as secondary activities. In Romania, for example, they helped organize an agricultural fair which drew an estimated 10,000 visitors. More than 60 community volunteers gave their time to the festival, which included 10 seminars on agricultural themes and provided 35 exhibitor stands for agriculture companies.
To ensure a project’s sustainability, gender roles must be considered at all levels of project planning and implementation. Volunteers across sectors receive training in participatory approaches to project planning and community development. These approaches help increase community members’ participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. This is especially true for women and youth. At in-service trainings, community members and Volunteers learn to use tools that aid in designing and implementing community projects to include a gender perspective.
In addition to integrating a gender perspective from the outset of their activities, Volunteers and
their host country partners often focus projects on empowering girls who are often more disadvantaged than boys, especially in the areas of education, leadership skills, and self-esteem. The highest percentage of girls’ and boys’ leadership camps is in the EMA region. These camps provide a format for a wide variety of topical, leadership, and empowerment activities for girls and boys.
In addition, every post in the EMA region is a source, transition, and/or destination country for human trafficking, so anti-trafficking efforts are a high- priority development issue. Anti-trafficking committees have been established in Albania, Macedonia, and Mongolia to assist Volunteers interested in contributing to reduction efforts by researching and developing best practices and possible programs that target youth.
As a whole, the EMA region strives to continually develop and refine its programs and Volunteer projects to address the current development needs of host countries, to ensure that Volunteers gain a broader understanding of other cultures, and that other cultures gain a better understanding of the United States and its diversity.
Congressional Budget Justification 2008 Peace Corps website (PDF, 47MB)