History of the Peace Corps in The Gambia
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in The Gambia at the invitation of the Gambian government in September 1967. They worked in skilled trades as mechanics, engineers, and carpenters, and they organized village cooperatives.
Two years later, another group of Volunteers arrived to work in education. Since that time, education has been a principal focus of Peace Corps activities in The Gambia. Education Volunteers have organized resource centers for primary schools; planned and launched libraries; developed teaching curricula and materials for classes in math, science, English, and environmental and forestry conservation; provided training for teachers in these subjects; and set up computer laboratories and taught information technology (IT) skills. Environment Volunteers have helped improve vegetable and fruit tree production in school gardens and orchards; helped control freshwater runoff and saltwater intrusion; constructed handmade dams that have doubled rice production; and assisted in managing seven Department of Forestry divisional nurseries. Health Volunteers work to prevent common diseases including malaria, respiratory infections, diarrhea, and HIV/AIDS. They also promote maternal and child health through education and community development.
Future of Peace Corps Programming in The Gambia
Peace Corps/The Gambia currently works in three development sectors: education, the environment, and health.
Regardless of their sector-specific assignments, Volunteers working in The Gambia work with colleagues in other sectors and in secondary activities such as HIV/AIDS education, youth and gender development, and girls’ education. Volunteers become an integral part of their local communities and have the opportunity to explain U.S. culture to their host families, villages, counterparts, and supervisors. This cross-cultural understanding is as essential to the Peace Corps’ mission as the technical assistance Volunteers provide.
The Peace Corps has been involved in The Gambia’s education sector since 1969. A significant reason for the project’s success has been its ability to respond to the changing needs of the sector. In addition to teaching students, education Volunteers have assisted in the development of curricula at all educational levels. They have worked in areas ranging from vocational education to teacher training in primary school education and secondary school math and science to computer operation and troubleshooting. In 1992, Peace Corps/The Gambia restructured its relationship with the Department of State for Education to more closely align with The Gambia’s education master plan. This plan aims to improve access to quality education for all Gambian students, especially girls.
About 30 Volunteers work in the education project. They conduct training for teachers at the regional and primary school levels. They also help build the capacity of their Gambian counterparts to produce and promote the use of teaching aids and student-centered learning activities, and they help set up and manage resource centers and libraries.
The rapid expansion in the number of new secondary schools, the shortage of qualified secondary school teachers (especially in math and science), the high rate of computer illiteracy, and limited IT facilities continue to be barriers to achievement of The Gambia’s development goals. To help meet these challenges, some Volunteers are providing pre-service training for teachers at The Gambia College, and some are teaching math and science at the university.
The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest and least developed countries. Over the past 40 years, rapid population growth, low rainfall, unsustainable agricultural practices, exploitation of the natural resource base, and a lack of environmental awareness have caused a dramatic decline in agricultural productivity and biodiversity along with increased environmental degradation.
The project plan for the environment sector was developed in 1994 with the merger of the agriculture and forestry projects into a new agroforestry extension project plan. In 1997, that project plan was revised to add community forestry and environmental education. The project improves the quality of life of local communities by promoting protection of the environment and adoption of sustainable practices for managing natural resources. The goals are to implement practices that enable community members to manage their natural resource base (fields and forests) sustainably; to train educators working with students to increase environmental awareness and implement activities to protect the environment; and to increase the income and improve the nutrition of rural women by educating them about horticultural techniques and nutritional practices. Volunteers use formal and nonformal education tools to promote community forestry and improved horticultural and agricultural techniques in rural communities. Environment Volunteers are also engaged in poultry production, other community-based initiatives, such as beekeeping, and income generation projects for women.
About 35 Volunteers currently serve in the environment project, working in small rural communities in environmentally threatened and economically deprived areas of the country. Volunteers are attached to the Department of Forestry and work with community members such as government extensionists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), teachers (for formal environmental education and school gardening), local farmers, and youth and women’s groups.
About 30 Volunteers are currently serving in the health project. They help develop primary health care, which The Gambia has adopted as its strategy for national health development. Volunteer assignments include helping Gambians plan and deliver health education, organizing in-service training for health workers, and designing teaching aids for health education. Volunteers are also involved in community development activities that promote health and they help implement activities that address identified health needs. Most health Volunteers are assigned to rural areas. Volunteers also work in the capital with the National Nutrition Agency, the National AIDS Secretariat, and The Gambia Family Planning Association. The rest work with divisional health offices, health centers and dispensaries, and village health services.