History of the Peace Corps in Mauritania
From Peace Corps Wiki
The Peace Corps began working in Mauritania in 1967. Since then, more than 1,100 Peace Corps Volunteers have completed two years of service, working in the core sectors of education, health and water sanitation, agriculture, and small business development. Early interventions were aimed at building roads, bridges, and dams; improving health; and teaching English, math, and physics. The foundations for the current program were laid in the 1980s, when Volunteers began to work in agriculture and environmental conservation, cooperatives, and health and Guinea worm eradication. In the 1990s, the agriculture and environmental conservation projects merged to form what is now the agroforestry project, while the cooperatives and the health and Guinea worm projects were expanded to become small business development and community health and water sanitation, respectively. In 2000, Peace Corps/Mauritania reopened the English language instruction program and created environmental education as an additional project. There are currently 100 Volunteers working in the country.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Mauritania
Peace Corps/Mauritania works in six primary areas: Health and water sanitation, education (teaching English and girls’ education), agroforestry, environmental education, small enterprise development, and information and communication technologies. Each of these projects was chosen based on needs expressed by both the government of Mauritania and local communities.
Volunteers in health are working to improve the health of rural populations by giving these communities the skills necessary to reduce the incidence of water-borne and hygiene-related diseases. Specific projects include promoting community health education and training village-based health agents.
Education Volunteers teach English to Mauritanian students in middle and high schools as their primary assignment. They also work to improve the quality of education in Mauritania by working with host-country national teachers to do peer coaching, design teaching materials, and set up lesson plan banks. Volunteers are also involved in community development through outreach activities, cross-sector collaboration, and individual Volunteer initiatives.
Curriculum design and teacher-training specialists assist partner institutions in the conception, production, and use of appropriate teaching materials. They also help revise existing syllabi and textbooks and work with partner institutions to devise training modules to upgrade the teaching skills of host-country teachers.
Volunteers in the agroforestry project are part of an integrated development effort that is improving agriculture and forestry practices throughout rural Mauritania. More specifically, Peace Corps Volunteers are attempting to improve the capacity of local farmers in selected oases and villages to produce nutritious food, for both consumption and income generation, while also protecting garden sites, villages, and oases against sand encroachment and natural degradation. A major emphasis of the Volunteers’ work is the transfer of technical expertise to Mauritanian farmers and villagers.
The newest Peace Corps/Mauritania project is environmental education. Volunteers assist local communities and their schools in raising environmental awareness and encouraging school and community members to act in accordance with the principles of environmental preservation. The goal is to get these communities to improve their natural resource management practices.
In small enterprise development, Volunteers are transferring basic business and computer skills to small-scale entrepreneurs and cooperatives. They are working with Mauritania’s informal economic sector to strengthen its planning, financial management, marketing, and profitability. These skills will increase entrepreneurs’ and cooperatives’ access to credit, allowing them to create new businesses or expand existing ones.
Finally, Volunteers are working in projects designed to enhance the availability and use of information and communication technologies. Specialist information communication technology (ICT) Volunteers work with the local Cisco Academy, the University of Nouakchott, and up-country at a number of newly established technology centers.
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers.
As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff, and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength so that you can continue to be of service to your community.