Fall 2005

Information and Communication Technology: A Vital Part of the Peace Corps Mission

From the Dominican Republic to South Africa, the Peace Corps is assisting the developing world’s move into the 21st century.  More than 1,800 Peace Corps volunteers are working to close the digital divide by incorporating information and communication technology (ICT) into their assignments. Over 180 volunteers focus exclusively on ICT.  Most prevalent among their activities is the teaching of basic computer literacy skills in schools and communities—to local government officials, teachers, non-governmental organization staff, youth groups, women, and others.

Peace Corps volunteers have also found that ICT is a foundational way to promote general education, business development, environmental and health education.  In Niger, two Peace Corps volunteers recently reported on how they are using technology to promote community health and HIV/AIDS awareness in rural African villages.

Mia Chabot

Most of the villagers in my community listen to their radios throughout the day. The most popular time slots are those in which the local radio station is on the air. This station has limited hours because it is a small community radio powered by a car battery and only has a small antenna range. This doesn't discourage the villagers because the shows and music are very relevant to their culture, friends, and local events.

Community radio is a great way to reach a large audience of people, so I asked and received a half-hour timeslot once a week.  I conduct a program in the local language and cover topics such as health lessons, environmental concerns, educational messages and cross-cultural issues. I often work with another volunteer to present material in a variety of forms including lectures, stories, skits, and question and answer discussions, while enhancing the program with samples of modern American music.

Being on the radio has made me instantly famous in the surrounding area. Everybody recognizes me as the white person who talks on the radio and they love to repeat my lessons every time they pass me in the markets or on the streets. The programs have generated interest in what the Peace Corps is doing in Niger and stimulated discussions about health, environmental, and educational issues. In my village, I have also noticed an increase in the number of people—especially women and children—who listen to the radio, not only my program but news and educational messages from other organizations as well.

I also created a video to help educate my host community on the dangers of HIV/AIDS that was used to begin a village meeting on the subject. With the help of other villagers and local doctors using illustrated books and condoms, we discussed how HIV is contracted, what symptoms of the disease are, and how to take preventive steps. We closed the meeting with a few more informational clips on HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.

I also organized an eight-day film festival to highlight community health issues, while providing entertainment for the village.  Each day we discussed one topic and included a movie in the evening and village meetings run by guest animators from the local hospital with the use of illustrated books, posters, hands-on experiences and expert advice to emphasize the topics introduced by the movies. After the movies, we showed entertainment videos that were chosen to represent different aspects of the wide-wide world.

I knew the project was a success when I saw the reactions of the villagers after the first day. They would sing the songs of the previous night's lesson and reenact the skits from the local language videos.  They also asked me to replay the videos they really liked, including those on AIDS awareness, family planning, and hygiene.

Nearly all the women came to the meetings even if that meant abandoning their chores. Most importantly, they listened to the teachings and applied what they learned. Hopefully, they will continue to talk about the eight days of cinema for a long time and continue to spread their new knowledge to the surrounding villages as well.

Katie Leach-Kemon

I work with the local radio station in my town to educate the community on health issues. For one month I devoted my shows to the topic of HIV/AIDS. One of these shows I designed specifically to target married women. At the time, I was becoming increasingly pessimistic about a married woman's options for protecting herself against HIV.

In Niger, men often travel to coastal countries in search of work after the harvest. Because they travel to places like the Ivory Coast, where the rate of HIV infection is around ten percent of the population, these Nigerian men frequently contract the disease and bring it back to their wives. 

Together with my two Nigerien friends Jamilla and Boubacar, I explored the topic of HIV/AIDS. Boubacar, a teacher, had overheard other male teachers discussing how some of their wives had given them the HIV talk. Some of their wives told them, "If you are going to be unfaithful, wear a condom. I don't want you to infect me or our children with HIV."

We developed a culturally-sensitive radio skit about a woman who is worried that her husband is being unfaithful. The woman speaks to her doctor, who explains to her how the virus is transmitted and how she can protect herself. The wife resolves to speak to her husband about the importance of wearing a condom should he choose to be unfaithful. "And if he refuses," she declares, "I will divorce him, because Islam says health comes first." In Niger, where 80 percent of the population is Muslim, this is a very important point.

I was so impressed that Jamilla was speaking on the radio in defense of two highly controversial subjects, women's rights and HIV/AIDS. The best part is that it wasn't me, a strange white woman, but a Nigerien woman who was advocating her own brand of feminism.  It was by far one of my most rewarding experiences working as a health volunteer in Niger.

About the Peace Corps

Since 1961, more than 178,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture.  Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age.  Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.  More information on the Peace Corps is available atwww.peacecorps.govor toll-free, 1-800-424-8580.


Mia Chabot is a 25-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Linneus, Maine and a graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.Katie Leach-Kemon is a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer from Middleburg, Va. and a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Amber Fox is senior at American University in Washington, DC and an intern at the Peace Corps Office of Press Relations since June 2005.


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