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Peace Corps plans to start sending volunteers overseas again

FILE - Cameron Beach, carries a carries a bucket of water on her head collected from a communal borehole in Dedza, near Lilongwe, Malawi, on July 23, 2021. Beach, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is living in rural Malawi teaching English at a rural high school where she had been sent by the United States government 18-months before COVID-19 began sweeping the world. The Peace Corps says it'll start sending volunteers overseas again in mid-March after it evacuated them from posts around the world two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Roy Nkosi, File)

(AP) — The Peace Corps will start sending volunteers overseas again in mid-March after it evacuated them from posts around the world two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. government program announced Thursday.

An initial group of new volunteers and those who were evacuated in March 2020 as the coronavirus began to spread across the globe will go to Zambia and the Dominican Republic this month, according to a Peace Corps statement.

The Peace Corps plans to return volunteers to their posts throughout the year, based on the number of COVID-19 cases and hospital capacity in the host country and the Peace Corps’ ability transport volunteers to medical evacuation centers if there’s an emergency. It is currently recruiting for 24 posts.

Besides their primary work on local issues, volunteers will be be involved in COVID-19 response and recovery, the Peace Corps said.

In Zambia, volunteers will coordinate with local leaders and partner ministries to provide COVID-19 education and promote access to vaccinations for communities, officials said. In the Dominican Republic, the focus will on helping communities overcome issues exacerbated by the pandemic, such as increased school dropout rates, literary skills and preparing young adults for work.

The Peace Corps marks its 61th anniversary this week. Two years ago, it had 7,000 volunteers in 62 countries, when they were evacuated and sent back to the United States.

“Over the past two years, our primary goal has been to return volunteers to the more than 60 countries that are enthusiastically awaiting their return. And, we have weathered the waves and variants of the COVID-19 situation at each post and reengineered Peace Corps systems, policies, and procedures to align with today’s reality,” Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn said.

Since those evacuations, the Peace Corps has used volunteers to help with the COVID-19 response domestically and developed a virtual service pilot program. Not before March 2020 had the organization founded by President John F. Kennedy needed to evacuate all its volunteers at the same time.

More than 240,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in scores of countries since the program was created in 1961. The aim is to help the countries meet their development needs through a variety of programs — from education to health and agriculture programs — while helping promote a better understanding of Americans. Typical service lasts two years after a training period.