Peace Corps volunteers on two-year assignments have returned to Liberia, 20 years after the last volunteers were withdrawn from the country due to war.
After war broke out in 1989, Peace Corps volunteers, many of whom were teaching in high schools, were withdrawn from the country.
In 2008, a trickle of experienced volunteers returned under the Peace Corps Response program, a short-term, high-impact program. But this is the first year that volunteers to Liberia will undertake normal, two-year assignments.
"Liberia knows Peace Corps very well and many people that we talk to had Peace Corps teachers from before the war so there was great anticipation about having Peace Corps come back and we have been extremely warmly welcomed," said Lucianne Phillips, Country Director of Peace Corps Liberia.
A total of 14 Peace Corps teaching volunteers are currently undergoing training in Liberia. At the end of August, they will be sworn in as high school teachers, living and working in seven of Liberia's counties. An additional six Peace Corps Response volunteers are also in the country.
Phillips said there is a shortage of trained secondary school teachers in Liberia. So the new Peace Corps volunteers will teach math, English and science.
"Liberia has a great challenge to train many teachers to get the educational system to where they would like to take it," added Phillips. "So we are delighted that we can bring the Peace Corps volunteers to help supplement in some of the specialty areas where the Ministry of Education has placed its priorities. So that's why we brought in math, English and science teachers."
Over the years, 3,800 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Liberia. The program was re-opened when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf asked the United States government for Peace Corps volunteers who could help improve the quality of education in Liberia.
Phillips said that one of the goals of the Peace Corps is for Liberians and Americans to undergo a cultural exchange, learning from one another.
"Something that has made an impression on them is the genuine desire to learn and the hunger for education that their students have and that they are able to make a difference for their students," noted Phillips.
The warm welcome the volunteers are receiving is also making a difference for them. One volunteer said the host family has been bringing fresh, heated water each morning. Another volunteer is teaching at a high school that was named for a Peace Corps volunteer who served before the war.