History of the Peace Corps in Swaziland
The Peace Corps was invited to work in Swaziland in 1969, a few months after the country gained independence from Great Britain. Over the next 28 years, 1,400 Peace Corps Volunteers served in Swaziland, working in the education and agriculture sectors. Playing a prominent role in Swaziland’s development, Volunteers taught English, agriculture, mathematics, science, and vocational education in secondary schools and promoted agricultural cooperatives in rural areas. A small number of volunteers were stationed in the urban areas, doing projects such as technical training at Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT) and in Manzini, computer work in the Ministry of Finance, urban planning, and geology.
A programming review in 1994 recommended that Peace Corps/Swaziland begin phasing out the education project because of the Ministry of Education’s lack of long-term priorities and objectives for the education sector. In addition, the ministry did not have a strategy for overcoming the increasing deficit of qualified secondary school teachers. These factors made the sustainability of the education project difficult.
The same review recommended the design of an environment project to protect the environment, further the education of the public on conservation issues, and promote small business development. This project was successfully launched in 1995, but in 1996, the Peace Corps faced budgetary constraints that necessitated the early closure of the Peace Corps/Swaziland program.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Swaziland
The greatest problem confronting the people of Swaziland is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As of 2005, the infection rate of adults (ages 15 to 49) was 42.6 percent, giving Swaziland the highest HIV rate in the world. In addition, approximately 70,000 children have been orphaned as a result of AIDS.
Despite King Mswati III’s declaration of AIDS as a national crisis, little additional government funding has been allocated to combating the disease. Moreover, the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland is exacerbating the impact of the current food crisis and drought in-country. The United Nations estimates that almost one-quarter of the population will require food assistance. The current rate of life expectancy in Swaziland, as a result of HIV/AIDS, is down to 37.5 years of age.
In April 2002, a Peace Corps assessment team visited Swaziland to determine how Volunteers could assist the Swazi people. The team found that the overwhelming effects of AIDS on the country’s people indicated a need for immediate assistance. The areas in which the Peace Corps feels it can best help the people of Swaziland are training teachers and community members in life skills aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention, initiating and promoting programs in HIV/AIDS awareness, identifying partnerships and resource alliances to fight the epidemic, strengthening existing HIV/AIDS intervention strategies and activities, mobilizing communities to respond to the effects of HIV/AIDS, and working with in-school and out-of-school youth.
The Peace Corps reopened its Swaziland program in 2003. The program is now devoted entirely to HIV/AIDS prevention, mitigation, care, and support.
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.