History of the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone
The Peace Corps program in Sierra Leone began in January 1962 as one of the first countries entered after Peace Corps’ launch in March 1961. In fact, Peace Corps signed an agreement with the new government of Sierra Leone just nine months after the country became independent from the United Kingdom.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to arrive in Sierra Leone were 37 secondary school teachers in January 1962. They were joined by another 70 Volunteers in August 1962. For much of the 1960s, PC/Sierra Leone (SL) concentrated on education, with Volunteers involved in teaching at many levels and throughout the country. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s PC/SL branched out into the sectors of agriculture, community development, design-construction manpower development, and health.
In the early 1990s political turmoil and civil unrest in the region engulfed Sierra Leone and Peace Corps was forced to evacuate its 82 Volunteers as a result of a bloodless coup d’état that took place in Freetown on April 29, 1992. In July 1992 Peace Corps staff returned to reopen the program, with 15 former Volunteers; another 11 new agriculture trainees arrived in August 1992. Projects in Health, Education and Agriculture were re-established in areas not immediately affected by the civil conflict, but growing violence soon made it difficult for Peace Corps to continue. Following the evacuation of the remaining Volunteers, the program was finally closed in October 1994. More than 5,900 Volunteers served in Sierra Leone up until this closure.
Peace Corps conducted a partial assessment in 2001, hoping to utilize Peace Corps Response Volunteers. Agency finances did not allow a return, but full assessments were conducted in 2003 and 2007, both recommending that the security situation in-country was conducive to Peace Corps’ return and that there was a tremendous need for, and goodwill toward, the Peace Corps. With the availability of funding in 2009, the agency made the decision to re-enter Sierra Leone with a group of 40 Volunteers.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone Peace Corps begun in Sierra Leone with an educational
project, but Volunteers have worked in many program sectors, including agriculture, education, fisheries, health, parks management, rural development, and small-scale food production/processing.
Throughout its history, Peace Corps has enjoyed a significant amount of support from the government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) and the population at-large. This strong support still exists and was very evident during the many meetings held with ministerial level officials during the re-entry assessment visit, as well as during tours of the nation. Education, environment/agriculture, health, and small business development are areas in which the government has expressed strong interest in having Peace Corps assistance and support. Strengthening local organizational capacities, food security, and income generation are explicitly advocated as major goals of many national development initiatives. All of the initial activities proposed for Peace Corps fall within the scope of government priorities and will systematically adhere to the strategic policy of decentralization and building local capacities in GOSL’s overall development plan.
Soon after the war ended in Sierra Leone, education emerged as a national priority. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology (now Ministry of Education, Sports, and Youth) developed a comprehensive education sector assistance plan for 2007-2015. Sierra Leone’s educational system has been transitioning from post-conflict resolution to sustainable development. To strengthen the educational system, the government of Sierra Leone and its partners are collaborating in every facet of the system to provide quality and affordable education. In response to this national priority, the Peace Corps’ initial return to Sierra Leone has focused on secondary education Volunteers teaching English, math, and science.
The focus for future programming in Sierra Leone is strong and strategic growth. In 2011, a second project area is expected to be added to complement the existing secondary education project and Peace Corps will more than double the number of Volunteers in-country. Peace Corps will also place Response Volunteers. These are returned Peace Corps Volunteers who undertake more narrowly focused and shorterterm assignments. Future programming expansion will likely focus on agriculture, community development, food security, and health education, in keeping with GOSL priorities.
See also: Sierra Leone