After Liberia Declared Ebola-free, 5 Peace Corps Return

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Five Peace Corps volunteers have returned to Liberia to begin work in the Education sector following the declaration of Liberia as Ebola transmission free by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In August last year, 108 Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from Liberia when the Ebola virus disease (EVD) entered the country from neighboring Guinea through Lofa County.

The five that returned are Maureen Loomis, Kristopher Keenan, Luc Overholt, Brian Rohde and Douglas M. Vargas.

In his welcoming statement at a swearing-in ceremony at Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 12, Vice President Joseph Boakai said the ceremony exemplified the humanity of those who made a sacrifice by returning to the country.

VP Boakai assured the volunteers that as they become adjusted they will encounter a great show of gratitude and hospitality from Liberians.

He said that as a direct beneficiary of Peace Corps services, he cannot proclaim enough the nobleness of the services that the volunteers, whom he described as true humanitarians, render to mankind.

He recalled President Sirleaf’s statement during a commissioning of the volunteers in 2013. She said “The work of Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia is a potent reminder that the agency’s mission is still in high demand after 51 years. Peace Corps volunteers have a very active role in the post-conflict country.

Thank you for your contribution to Liberia’s development.”

VP Boakai also noted that the government and people of Liberia were highly grateful to the volunteers and the U.S. Government for their bold and caring decision to resume their activities in the country, indicating that their presence and service have been a great blessing.

He assured the volunteers that government’s doors will remain open to them for any supportive interventions that may render their services smooth and impactful.

U.S. Ambassador Deborah Malac, who swore the volunteers into office over the weekend, reflected that the volunteers left under extreme circumstances, hoping that the heartbreak felt will be replaced with joy.

She indicated that there are plans to increase the number of volunteers in the next 12 months to the level it was prior to the outbreak.

The volunteers will continue to help students and teachers better employ limited resources such as libraries, laboratory materials and learning aids, and will begin looking at ways they can help support public health and literacy initiatives, she said.

“Volunteers also will continue to build Liberian capacity that spans far beyond the classroom, as you all have shown in your commitment to gender equity, food security, malaria prevention, and many other initiatives in the past. All of these activities prepare youth to be productive adults and citizens. The

Peace Corps is challenging students to leverage their abilities, communication skills, and decision-making in service to their families and communities,” Ambassador Malac said.

She also commended the volunteers for their services and appreciated them for what they will soon begin to do.

Education Minister George Werner said Liberia’s education system is doomed and needs revolutionary action to lift it up. The task is urgent, he stressed.

Acting Foreign Minister B. Elias Shoniyin expressed hope that the presence of the volunteers will help to nurture Liberian students mainly in English and Mathematics.

Brief biographical outlook of volunteers:

Maureen Loomis was born in Napa, California, attended the University of California Santa Curz and earned Bachelor of Arts in History. She will be teaching Math in Margibi County.

Kristopher Keenan is from Woodinville, Washington and attended the University of Washington in Seattle. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and will be teaching Math and Physics in Bong County.

Douglas M. Vargas, from Fresno, California, attended California State University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He will be assigned in Bong County as a Biology teacher.

Brian Rohde whose hometown is Centennial, Colorado, attended Northern Arizona University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. He, too, will be teaching Math and Physics in Bong County.

Luc Overholt hails from Fort Pierce, Florida. He attended the University of Florida and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He will also be assigned as a Math teacher in Bong County.

Peace Corps activities began in Liberia in 1962 and came to a halt in 1990 as a result of the civil war. They returned in 2008 and then suspended activities because of Ebola last year. Since its commencement dating back to 1962, over 4,000 volunteers have served in Liberia mainly focusing on education.


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