History of the Peace Corps in Guyana
The Peace Corps first received a formal invitation from Guyana in 1966, the year of the country’s independence. From 1966 until 1971, more than 160 Volunteers served in Guyana with the Peace Corps. At that time, education Volunteers broadened the school curricula to include technical and vocational subjects, including home economics, crafts, and manual arts. Technicians, architects, and engineers also assisted in developing and carrying out plans of Guyana’s Ministry of Works and Hydraulics. The Guyana program was discontinued in 1971, after the government of Guyana requested all overseas voluntary agencies to leave.
In 1993, the Guyanese government, led by President Cheddi Jagan, approached the Peace Corps about the prospects for the Peace Corps to reopen its program in Guyana. In March 1995, the Peace Corps officially reopened a joint Peace Corps office for Suriname and Guyana. The first Volunteers arrived in 1995, serving in the areas of community health and youth development. In 1997, Peace Corps/Guyana and Peace Corps/ Suriname split to form two separate programs. Approximately 30 Volunteers arrive each year to work in the community health project and the education and community development project (which includes information technology). In total, more than 380 Volunteers have served in Guyana with the Peace Corps.
Volunteers serve at sites ranging from the capital city of Georgetown, with a population of 300,000, to small, remote villages with populations fewer than 300. They are affiliated with a variety of schools, nongovernmental agencies, and government health facilities. The work of Peace Corps Volunteers in Guyana is well-received by the people of the communities in which they serve.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Guyana
Volunteers address educational, health, and technical concerns by providing community health education, literacy, life skills and academic training, and information technology in collaboration with relevant ministries and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). They assist existing efforts to facilitate community involvement, train service providers, and introduce new training and teaching methodologies. Today, there are nearly 50 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Guyana in nine of the country’s 10 regions.
Community Health Education Project
Under serious labor constraints, the Ministry of Health in Guyana is attempting to simultaneously strengthen and decentralize the country’s health delivery system. Depressed wages and salaries, a declining economy, and the flight of skills to more lucrative labor markets have worsened the situation. Therefore, the need for healthcare providers at all levels is acute.
Peace Corps/Guyana’s community health project seeks to support the Ministry of Health’s primary healthcare program.
Health education Volunteers are usually assigned to work with local health centers. In collaboration with local staff, they address primary and preventive healthcare issues such as breastfeeding, diarrhea, worms, coughs and colds, nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, and sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. Health education Volunteers also work with community leaders, groups, and organizations to facilitate community health assessments and campaigns, and to design and implement community projects. Volunteers placed in this sector are challenged to develop innovative ways of taking health education outreach programs to schools, community groups, and youth.
Education and Community Development Project
Guyana’s process of nation-building is causing vast political, social, and economic changes. These changes are placing the nation’s youth, which constitute nearly 60 percent of the population, at great risk.
Guyana’s Ministry of Education has recognized an urgent need to refocus the country’s education system by improving the literacy and numeracy of the country’s youth and by enhancing teachers’ skills in providing literacy education. In addition to ongoing projects focusing on training youth in life-skills development, Peace Corps/Guyana’s community education project taps Volunteers to work directly with young students to improve their literacy skills and with teachers to promote literacy education.
Community Information Technology
In March 2000, the Ministry of Education invited Peace Corps/Guyana to play a role in the development of information technology (IT) as a curriculum subject within the school system. This ministry has introduced two educational development projects in some of the country’s schools: the secondary school reform project and the Guyana education access project. It is hoped that the two projects will have a direct impact on promoting IT among the nation’s young people.
Several Volunteers work directly in the schools, and all Volunteers are encouraged to assist informally with these projects in their area if possible. Activities include teaching students and teachers to use the technology, assisting with setting up computer labs, and interacting with the schools and community groups to ensure that the benefits of this technology reach the communities as well.
Future Programming Directions
Guyana is one of the 15 countries benefiting from the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan) and Peace Corps/Guyana Volunteers are mobilizing the communities in which they live and work to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is the hope that this community organizing will lead to the development of community work plans and proposals for small projects that will be submitted to Peace Corps/Guyana for funding. Volunteers also encourage their communities to address other social issues, including orphans and vulnerable children, prevention of mother-tochild transmission, peer education/peer counseling, home-based care, voluntary counseling and testing, behavior change activities, vocational skills training, condom distribution, and community mobilization on HIV/AIDS projects that impact the spread of HIV in Guyana.