The Peace Corps is embarking on a new program to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa and a Lawrence man will be in the front lines.
Stuart Squires, 25, is one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to undergo training as advocates and educators of HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
Squires, a 1996 graduate of Lawrence High School and a spring graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, will serve in the northwest African country of Mauritania, located south of Morocco. He will arrive there for a two-year stay later this week.
"I'm extremely excited," Squires said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. "It's set in an area of Africa that's between the Arab north and the black south."
Squires was with Peace Corps Director Mark Schneider during a Washington press conference Tuesday announcing the new AIDS initiative.
The threat of AIDS throughout Africa is the dominant humanitarian challenge confronting the world, Schneider said. For the first time all 2,400 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 24 African countries will be trained in AIDS prevention. They are to pass on that knowledge to the people they work with.
This is the first phase of a five-year Peace Corps plan to establish AIDS education in the most severely affected regions of Africa.
Squires will go through a three-month training period in Mauritania before being specifically assigned to a particular region.
"I'm going to be teaching English as a secondary language but it doesn't matter what program we're in, everyone is going to be learning AIDS education," he said.
Squires said he does not know how serious the AIDS problem is in Mauritania.
Squires will learn to speak Arabic, the official language of the country, and French, which also is spoken.
Mauritania is primarily Islamic; Squires earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies at DePaul.
"I'm looking forward to immersing myself in that culture," he said.
Squires didn't start thinking about joining the Peace Corps until a few months ago.
"I was thinking about going on to graduate school but I was also looking for a way to get involved and study religious cultures," he said.
Squires said he has no major concerns about his health or safety while in Mauritania, a country that is 80 percent desert and the size of California and New Mexico combined.
"The Peace Corps only goes to countries where it's invited," he said.
"From the people I've talked to who have worked in the Peace Corps, I'm confident that they can react quickly if there is a medical problem."
Squires' parents are Marti Butell, Lawrence, and Steve Squires, Topeka.
There are 82 volunteers from Kansas serving in the Peace Corps.