Vol.21 No.116

Monday 2 August 2004    





Cartoon Strip

Business Week



Arts/Culture Review




The Experiences Of A Peace Corp In Ghanzi

8/1/2004 7:34:56 PM (GMT +2)

Thirty-seven year old Matthew Onega was part of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers to return to Botswana in 2003. The Peace Corps had not had a program in Botswana since 1997. But they returned at the request of President Festus Mogae to join Botswana's fight against HIV/AIDS. All of the 46 Peace Corps volunteers now in Botswana are engaged in efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

Onega works in Ghanzi with the District AIDS Co-ordinator Theresa Makati. "I am working alongside Theresa and we have developed into an excellent team together. I would like to think that the HIV/AIDS programs in Ghanzi District are benefiting from our availability, dedication and hard work. The successes here are not all our own. We thank all the fine dedicated people trying their best to help those in need. Without them the goals we set could not be reached. My assignment to work with the District AIDS Coordinator and live in Ghanzi has been very educational, fun and rewarding," says Onega.

"The Peace Corps program and myself have had the full support of the District Commissioner, Nono Macheke; Council Secretary, Ringo Ipotseng and the District AIDS Coordinator, Theresa Makati from the first day I arrived. The help I received from them and many others helped me to settle in very easily. Now I feel that I am a real part of the Ghanzi community because many people know me and are always helpful in making me feel at home and I have made new friends to share experiences with. Of course there have been many challenges and not everything works as planned, but the things I've seen and people I've met have made the experience of volunteering here worthwhile."

He adds that in the 14 months he has been in Ghanzi, he has been impressed with the amount of programs and effort given to the fight against HIV/AIDS. "I am proud that the Peace Corps were asked to be a part of the effort and think that we can make a contribution. Even though we only each get two years to help individually, in the years to come, I hope to look back and see some positive things in Botswana and will be happy to have been a part of it."

His parents, Albert and Cheryl Onega introduced him to the Peace Corps. In 1997, after raising four children, they became volunteers in the Solomon Islands. The senior Onega taught agriculture at a rural training centre, while his wife taught English and business. Having had such a rewarding experience in the Solomon Islands prompted the Onegas to join again. In September 2003, just six months after the junior Onega arrived in Botswana, his parents went to Cameroon for their second tour with the Peace Corps. Onega senior is currently teaching agro-forestry at a regional college and doing extension work with local farm groups. His mother also teaches agro-forestry to improve soil fertility and plans to help a primary school in the future.

Cheryl Onega is extremely proud of her son. "He has a lot to offer the community he works in. He has taken the time to be of service to people truly in need." The young Onega grew up in the heartland of the United States of America. He graduated from Ohio University in 1993, and served in the Army National guard for six years. Before joining the Peace Corps, he worked for an auto insurance agency.

"Helping and assisting with the HIV/AIDS crisis has been a real education. In America, AIDS in Africa is well-known but to see firsthand the problems and suffering brings a human side to the issue and it is not just a picture on television or an article in a magazine anymore. I will be able to take back a real description of what HIV/AIDS is doing to Botswana and the wonderful people here."

Since 1966, over 2,100 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Botswana. Peace Corps volunteers must be US citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.

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