Joseph Cunningham, Gleaner Writer
Robin (second left) and Julie with students of the Flankers Primary School. - Contributed Photo
PEACE CORPS Jamaica is one of the most successful in the world, says Suchet Loois, head of the local chapter of this United States Government programme.
Internationally the Peace Corps is celebrating its 45th anniversary. This milestone will also be marked locally.
"The purpose of the celebrations is to acknowledge God for his blessings on Peace Corps Jamaica, as our second longest running agenda worldwide. We will use the period to inform the public of our history and work as well," says Dr. Loois.
The corps first came to Jamaica in 1962, the year of the country's Independence and has since posted a total of 3,300
volunteers to the island with a further 111 currently serving two-year terms here.
IN 138 DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Established to promote mutual understanding between Americans and other nationalities, the corps currently operates in 138 developing countries. Its first volunteers in Jamaica worked in library development, vocational education, and agriculture. Today Peace Corps workers in Jamaica assist in conservation, information technology, promoting healthy living, and helping young people to gain the skills and education they need for their future.
The 111 volunteers in Jamaica will have already gone through a relatively arduous application process. Candidates must first attend an introductory meeting to learn about the work and history of the corps. At this same session they must also fill out a 27-page application form to investigate their management and leadership skills. And after all this they must undergo a rigid medical examination.
NO AGE BARRIERS
There are no age barriers (Volunteer of the Week, Bob Keagi is 72 years old) and if accepted candidates are assigned based on their professional skills. In Jamaica they are assigned to two different programmes. The first is Youth-as-Promise which focuses on youth development . The second is Crisis Corps which deals with natural disaster relief and reconstruction.
The corps works closely with local organisations including the Jamaica Red Cross. Under a recently signed agreement, volunteers may soon be attached to all 14 Red Cross parish headquarters.
Julie Burnette from Tennessee and Robin Carlson, Chicago, are assigned to 'Youth-as-Promise'. Like every other volunteer they are expected to 'blend in'. What this means is that they have had to live with a Jamaican family for six weeks, familiarise themselves with Patois, learn to cook local foods and even hand wash their own clothes.
NO BEACH CORPS
Assigned to the community of Flankers in St. James, their
experience of Jamaica will be far different from that of their countrymen frolicking on local beaches this Spring Break. As the new batch of volunteers explained to Volunteer Today when they arrived in July, "This is not the Beach Corps!"
And their presence has not gone unappreciated by locals. According to Marilyn Nash, administrator at the Flankers Peace and Justice Community Centre, "To get trained professionals to serve freely is just remarkable. We have seen significant improvement with each student. Students even visit their home for assistance."