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Bush Order Urges Volunteerism Abroad

September 26, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Highly skilled? Willing to travel?

An executive order President Bush signed Thursday helps to give doctors, nurses, economists, engineers, computer specialists and tens of thousands of other well-schooled Americans an opportunity to volunteer to work on development projects overseas.

The order implements ``Volunteers for Prosperity″ _ a call to service to support major U.S. initiatives that promote health and prosperity around the world.

The program, a component of the White House’s USA Freedom Corps, compliments Bush’s commitment to double funding for the Peace Corps during the next five years. There is a backlog of 200,000 inquiries for 7,600 Peace Corps slots, according to John Bridgeland, a White House domestic adviser and director of the USA Freedom Corps.

``We know we have this pent up demand around the country _ people who want to work on initiatives abroad,″ he said. ``This order sets up the infrastructure that will give them easy access to information and ways in which they can be deployed for flexible terms to meet their schedules.″

Volunteers in the program will be able to serve in the country of their choice, for however long their particular project takes. The new program tap volunteers for weeks or months, versus a two-year commitment typically required by the Peace Corps, Bridgeland said.

Bush announced the new initiative in May during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy. ``Like generations before us,″ Bush said, ``this generation of citizens will show the world the energy and idealism of the United States of America.″

Since May, the Volunteers for Prosperity program has signed up 40 non-governmental groups interested in taking on volunteers, Bridgeland said.

``A doctor from Virginia, for example, who wants to work on HIV can go through the USA Freedom Corps volunteer network, volunteer to work in Africa for a non-governmental organization that’s receiving federal support,″ Bridgeland said.

Volunteers might work fighting AIDS as part of a U.S. prosperity initiative called The Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, he said. Another volunteer, working under the Digital Freedom Initiative, might end up helping a rug maker in Senegal learn how to use technology to sell his wares.

Other possibilities include the Water for the Poor Initiative, the Trade for African Development and Enterprise Initiative, or the Middle East Partnership Initiative, which helps educate illiterate Arab women.

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