Peace Corps in Namibia: The Untold Story
By Lloyd Pierson
I think this is an important story, a part of history, that needs to be told. In late 1989 Director of the Peace Corps Paul Coverdell and I started discussing the possibility and the importance of a Peace Corps programme in what would be the new country, Namibia.
The concern he had, rightfully so, was that due to the war in Angola and landmines placed in the northern area along the river, Volunteers would not be safe. Since I had been in the area several times and had seen hundreds of local Namibians safely walking around, I jokingly made a pact with Director Coverdell.
I told him I would go to the area and if I called him back, everything would be a go; however, if I did not, there would not be an entry. We laughed, knowing I would be safe. The Director authorized me to begin having discussions with the soon to be government of Namibia and to gauge their interest. Once those discussions started, it was clear they not only wanted the Peace Corps, but would enthusiastically welcome them.
We then started discussions about where the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) could best serve and it was determined the greatest need was at the Teachers Training facility at Katima Mulilo and along the Caprive Strip to Rundu.
When Director Coverdell and then Chief of Staff Jody Olsen were convinced the PCVs would be safe, he gave a thumbs up for an entry. One week after Independence on 21 March 1990, I met with Minister of Education, Hon Nahas Angula (later to be Prime Minister) and he said while they welcomed the Peace Corps, they were so new they did not have any government letterhead to issue a formal request.
I told him about the Gettysburg Address and said we did not need a formal letterhead, the request would serve that purpose. Immediately, he pulled a blank sheet of paper from his desk drawer and dictated to his assistant a request for the Peace Corps to enter Namibia.
That request on a blank sheet of paper set in motion the selection and arrival of the first group of PCVs into Namibia and it is now part of the Peace Corps exhibit at the Smithsonian.
Later, in another article, [I will provide more information] on the selection, arrival (hint: a special dinner at the State House) and the achievements in Namibia of the first group of Volunteers.
The programme in Namibia continues to thrive and there are so many to thank, in particular, the first group of Volunteers, plus the wonderful staff that made it all happen.
The staff included our beloved Hope Phillips (who has now passed away), Tim Olsen (now Dr. Olsen), Kim Ward, Judy Baskey, Nurse Clara Donkor, and so many others. In fact, all of the Peace Corps Botswana staff should be thanked because it was their diligent and compassionate work that allowed the Peace Corps Namibia programme to open. I also specifically mention Steven Gibson, Mary Lanning, and Deborah Cottrell and all of our local staff. Sure miss Mercy.
About the Author: Lloyd Pierson – Senior International Adviser at United States Africa Sports and Education Foundation Peace Corps in Namibia.