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GOP Pastor In Congress Would Eliminate Peace Corps, International Assistance

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) is seeking to eliminate all funding for the Peace Corps and other international programs. On Wednesday, Walker introduced an amendment to a spending bill that would eliminate $19 billion in international assistance and reallocate all the funding.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, took to the floor to oppose the draconian measure.

Walker’s measure would entirely eliminate federal funding “to 14.7 million people receiving life-saving HIV treatment, including 700,000 children, 70 million children learning to read with U.S. assistance, 6.5 million refugees displaced by conflicts or natural disasters, and 7,200 Peace Corps volunteers serving as excellent representatives of the United States,” Lowey said.

“How are these cuts in our national interest?” Lowey asked before recommending all her colleagues vote against the measure.

The Peace Corps was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as an opportunity for volunteers to bring assistance throughout the developing world. Since it began, more than 220,000 Americans have served, working on issues such as reducing malaria, fighting the spread of HIV, and reducing global hunger by improving agricultural outputs.

The National Peace Corps Association (NCPA), a group formed to advocate for the program, raised the alarm about Walker’s amendment on their Facebook page, troubled at the prospect of seeing the program lose all federal funding.

Walker, a Southern Baptist pastor who chairs the Republican Study Committee, is not alone among Republicans who seek to cut back on the Peace Corps. In Trump’s 2018 budget, he recommended cutting its budget by $12 million. Trump’s plan was “the largest proposed cut to the Peace Corps by a president in over 40 years,” according to the NCPA.

Trump and Republicans are not strangers to slashing the budgets of wildly popular programs. Earlier in 2019, Trump proposed — and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended — massive cuts to the Special Olympics program.

After sustained public outcry, Trump eventually relented on proposed cuts.

Members of the House are scheduled to vote on Tuesday, June 18, on Walker’s Peace Corps amendment.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Peace Corps Withdraws From W. Africa Over Ebola Fears

Washington (AFP) — The U.S. Peace Corps announced Wednesday it was pulling hundreds of volunteers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone due to growing concerns over the spread of the deadly Ebola epidemic raging in West Africa.

Another U.S. group, Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, said it was also temporarily withdrawing its non-essential staff from Liberia, citing regional “instability and ongoing security issues.”

A Peace Corps spokeswoman said two of the group’s volunteers had contracted Ebola after coming into contact with someone who later died from the virus, but she stressed that they were not symptomatic and were currently under medical observation and being held in isolation.

“When they receive medical clearance for return to the U.S., we will work with them to travel safely back,” she added.

At least one American has died from the virus after contracting it in Liberia, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. Two others have been infected.

The Peace Corps said it would “closely monitor” the outbreak with U.S. experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department before a future return to the three countries, those most affected by the outbreak. The U.S. government-run volunteer agency set no date for resuming operations.

“The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” it said in a statement.

Two Americans associate with Samaritan’s Purse “have shown a slight improvement in the past 24 hours,” but both remain in serious condition after contracting the virus in Liberia, the group said. It was unclear if they were the same two cases to which Harf referred.

The two Americans were identified as Kent Brantly, a doctor working for Samaritan’s Purse, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary with partner organization Service in Mission (SIM).

There are currently 102 Peace Corps volunteers in Guinea working on agriculture, education and health, 108 in Liberia, and 130 in Sierra Leone.

The three countries are struggling to contain an epidemic that has infected 1,200 people and left at least 672 dead across the region since the start of the year.

Fears that the outbreak could spread to other continents have been growing with European and Asian countries on alert and leading medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warning the epidemic is out of control.

The Peace Corps said it had provided volunteers in adjacent areas to those countries with guidance to take the “utmost precautions” to protect their health in recent months.

Ebola, which first emerged in 1976, is believed to be carried by animals hunted for meat, notably bats.

It spreads among humans via bodily fluids and has killed 56 percent of those it has infected in the current outbreak.

AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso

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Thanks To You, Some Good Comes From Boko Haram Nightmare

How about some good news for a change?

Last month, I wrote about the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by a band of putative men who style themselves “Boko Haram” — “Western Education is Forbidden.” Taken in concert with the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan and the 2008 acid attack on Shamsia Husseini in Afghanistan, this latest outrage cements an impression that Islamic extremists are petrified of girls and what they might become with a little education.

It is a frustrating, anger-making thing. “Make me wanna holler,” as Marvin Gaye once sang.

But this time for some reason, I needed to do more than holler. I needed to take action. It seemed to me the best way to fight against people seeking to interdict the education of Nigerian girls was to help ensure that still more Nigerian girls go to school.

That led me to the Peace Corps Nigeria Alumni Foundation (PCNAF.org), a small group of Peace Corps vets in greater Washington, D.C., that exists for the specific purpose of providing scholarships for Nigerian girls. I spoke to their president, Albert Hannans, verified their link to the Peace Corps, searched Lexis-Nexis for red flags. Finding none, I sent a small donation to PCNAF c/o P.O. Box 65530, Washington, D.C. 20035 and wrote about it in this space. I figured a few of you might do the same.

I was wrong. It wasn’t a few of you. It was a whole bunch of you. So many that Hannans tells me the little group’s treasurer is overwhelmed and it’s become a welcome hardship just running back and forth to the bank. The present tally: $35,000 and climbing, a huge amount given that $500 represents a year’s tuition.

Or as Hannans puts it: “Wow.”

“It gives us the opportunity to provide support to a lot more girls. We’ve had very limited resources. That has changed now.” Hannans says PCNAF is even hoping to use some of the funds to benefit the kidnapped girls themselves. He’s trying to arrange that when they are released, some will be able to attend American University of Nigeria, which has a secondary school (equivalent to a U.S. high school) on its campus and, better, “a very sizable security force.”

So first of all, thank you. You have done a wondrous, miraculous thing here.

W.E.B. Du Bois was famously prescient when he said, “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” Well, it seems apparent the problem of the 21st century is the problem of the gender line, men in backward places (and some not-so-backward places) working to keep over half of humankind in its “place.” One way they do this is by enforcing ignorance.

Hannans defines the lack of access to basic education as a crisis that directly affects U.S. interests. His reasoning? Ignorant places are invariably poor places and frequently, also unstable places, susceptible to the appeal of loud voices offering scapegoats and easy answers. So places that might otherwise provide markets for U.S. goods become instead places needful of U.S. help — and recruiting stations for terrorism.

Nigeria is Exhibit A, a nation of 12-year-old brides, flourishing HIV rates and scant educational opportunities. Hannans wants better for Nigeria’s girls. “We want to see them value themselves more and their abilities and their capabilities, to come out of their shells and blossom.” This is the energizing mission of his life. He is 70 years old.

There is a moral to the story: Often, the horrors of this world make us feel small, anonymous, helpless to effect change. But that is an illusion. There is nothing — nothing — that cannot be moved by the power of aroused people united for a righteous cause. Sometimes, the world makes you want to holler and that’s understandable. But when people take action?

“Wow.”

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei