July 28, 2002 - Op-Ed: A Returned Volunteer responds to the GAO Report

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, July 29, 2002 - 12:03 am: Edit Post

A Returned Volunteer responds to the GAO Report


One of the purposes of PCOL is to encourage and facilitate the exchange of different opinions and views within the Returned Volunteer Community. This op-ed piece on the recent GAO Report on Safety and Security of Peace Corps Volunteers was written by by RPCV Daniel Pailes, a long-time critic of Peace Corps' Safety and Security Policies. We will be publishing other op-ed pieces on the new GAO Report in future issues of PCOL.

Read and comment on this op-ed piece on the GAO Report on Peace Corps Safety and Security at:

Response to the GAO Report*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Response to the GAO Report

This is a response to Peace Corps actions regarding safety and the GAO recommendations regarding safety. I have not had a lot of time to reflect on this report and would like to write something more comprehensive in another article. However, I would like to be brief in expressing my extreme disappointment again with Peace Corps and their actions regarding safety. In the entire report the GAO did not mention the prevention measures that we have proposed. We have proposed having two volunteers at every site location that has volunteers. Neither the GAO nor the Peace Corps feels this should be policy. It is the best prevention.

By having two volunteers at every site you increase the lines of communication if a horrible act is happening at a particular site. Most of the volunteers who have been killed or missing were serving alone. Approximately, seventy percent of volunteers serve with another volunteer in the respective villages. The new Office of Safety is important for training, but the IG's office of Peace Corps and the new Office of Safety won't be able "to wave their magic wand over a particular country and say it's safe". The volunteer who may be in peril of an attack won't be able to "pull out their handbook" to look up what they should or shouldn't do. Life doesn't happen that way. If, for example a volunteer were serving in a village with another volunteer, someone in the village would probably let the other volunteer know of a disturbing situation. Also, the presence of having two volunteers reduces threats from other unscrupulous individuals.

Furthermore, over sixty percent of volunteers are women. Honorable volunteers like Larisa Jaffe, Nancy Coutu and Karen Phillips were alone at the time of their own attack. Ms. Coutu's mother suggested to Director Mark Gearan at the time that Peace Corps pair volunteers together. She was ignored. Larisa Jaffe was sixty-three years of age. When I think about her horror during her last moments with us, it gets me upset there wasn't another volunteer serving with her. We were calling the Peace Corps for six months to change their policy regarding two volunteers. To this day, we have been ignored by Peace Corps. However, many in the Agency and out don't think it is such a bad idea. Physical assaults do happen more often to women. Think to yourself. If, there was another volunteer in the village, another woman or man, don't you think incidents would decrease. It is common sense.

In the coming Fourth Goal of Peace Corps Legislation, Senator Dodd and his staff "cut out" the house provision for having two volunteers at every site. Instead, Dodd is supporting that the IG determine which sites will have two volunteers. By having two volunteers at every site universal, it makes it clear that "we the people United States" are looking out for your safety and well being. The IG has pandered to Congress long enough, saying everything is fine. This GAO report proves safety is a concern. I don't trust Charles Smith or any other IG who doesn't care about volunteers on the ground. Instead, Vasquez, Dodd, the National Peace Corps Association continue to make more offices and layers of bureaucracy at Peace Corps without fixing the real problem, volunteer placement and prevention.

To top it off, Dodd is encouraging 4,000 more volunteers into service and has targeted Muslim countries. How many will serve alone out in those countries? If they do, they should get a benefit of their student loan being written off. State Department employees get danger pay for being in the same countries. Why not volunteers? State Department has risk countries. Why don't Peace Corps volunteers?

Lastly, I want to mention the fear of reprisal from the Agency or being sent home early before you finish your two years as a volunteer. Many volunteers don't report difficult situations at their site because they know Peace Corps history with attrition rates. Many volunteers are serving the people of their village, their country and another nation altruistically. Many of these same volunteers are also aware of getting the benefits of going to graduate school after service, getting a good job, moving up in Peace Corps depends on them fulfilling their service. Some may stay out there too long before reporting anything to Peace Corps. The system of firing people, that is early termination, medical separation and administrative separations has to be looked at within the Agency.

In 1989, Peace Corps wrongfully separated me from service after I reported a threatening incident at my site. Peace Corps turned on me as a volunteer and cast my service in a false light. Over the past fourteen years, I have had my own struggle with the Agency. Since, 1993, I have been lobbying for Separated Peace Corps Veterans with the Congress and Peace Corps. Due the disappearance of Walter Poirier, I decided to go more public with my concerns. I thought of Walter, and who was speaking for him and others who can't speak about their safety concerns. I run a web site called Bankass.com dedicated to Separated Veterans and volunteers who have died, are missing or been killed in service.

Thanks for your time and I still care about the Peace Corps and the program,

About the Author

Daniel Pailles served in Mali in 1988 and 1989. He has a Master of Science in International Community Economic Development from New Hampshire College. He has been a Democratic consultant and activist for ten different campaigns nationally and locally and was a Campaign Aide to Senator Paul Tsongas during his campaign for President in 1992. He is the owner of Daniel Pailes Book Service, an internet based bookstore with 12,000 titles. Mr. Pailes operates a web site at Bankass.com for Separated Peace Corps Veterans.

Click on a link below for more stories on PCOL

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Why the Peace Corps needs a Fourth GoalThe Peace Corps 40th plus one
The Case for Peace Corps IndependenceThe Controversy over Lariam
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RPCV Congressmen support Peace Corps' autonomyPeace Corps Expansion:  The Numbers Game?
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports; Peace Corps - Safety and Security



By RPCV and former staff member on Tuesday, July 30, 2002 - 4:14 pm: Edit Post

I can appreciate Mr. Pailles’ concern and love for the Peace Corps, I share it myself. Having served as a volunteer and an overseas staff member, I have had experience first hand with many shortcomings pointed out by the GAO report. I support GAO’s recommendations wholeheartedly. However, I do not support a mandate requiring two PCVs be placed at each site. The source of Mr. Pailles’ figures for the percent of PCVs serving in the same village is unclear, he implies that the majority of deaths and assaults are committed against the 30% of PCVs who live at sites where there is no other volunteer. It is a faulty assumption. Assaults are overwhelmingly opportunistic. A target is marked because the perpetrator feels he can successfully carry out his crime, not because he knows the target is the only Peace Corps Volunteer in town. While Peace Corps can clearly do more to assure the safety of its Volunteers, it is a statistical fact that a PCV when overseas when in the United States. According to the Department of Justice (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/cvusst.htm), in 1999, the rate per 1,000 persons or household for personal crimes is 33.7, for crimes of violence the rate is 32.8, for household burglary the rate is 34.1, the rate for theft is 153.9. Among PCVs, from 1998-2000, for major physical assault the rate is 17 per 1,000. I would also go so far to assert that in host countries, crimes against PCVs are lower than crimes against the citizens of that country.

The key to PCV safety and security is training and community. The first step in being safe is recognizing that we all must make responsible decisions for our safety and security, whether at home or abroad. We must be aware of our surroundings and make safety conscious decisions. This is clearly an area where Peace Corps training can make a difference. It is, however, the responsibility of the PCV to heed this training. Peace Corps can provide unparalleled training but PCVs must chose to implement it. When I was a volunteer, one PCV was pickpocketed on the bus three times in less than a year. We had been warned in training that pickpockets were prevalent and you would have thought after the first time he would have been more cautious. He certainly didn’t deserve to be pickpocketed but he also did not make responsible security decisions. Having another PCV at his site would not have made a difference. An excellent book on personal safety is “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence” by Gavin De Becker.

Community integration is also critical to safety and security at home and abroad. I’m not opposed to more than one PCV at a site (they can develop great synergy) but perhaps it would be better to require PCVs to live with families for their first six months at site. According to the 1999 All Volunteer Survey, the more volunteers are integrated into their communities, the safer they feel. A family would provide a sponsored introduction into the community, know how things are done, who to contact when there are problems, provide security from “unscrupulous individuals” and the PCV’s language ability would increase more quickly. After the PCV has settled into his site, become a respected member of the community and demonstrates his understanding of local customs, he might consider finding his own place. I don’t understand why Mr. Pailles feels two PCVs at one site is better than a living with a local family. Why would communication be better if two PCVs were at a site together or that another PCV in the village would prevent crime against PCVs. I think there would be greater tendency for the PCVs to isolate themselves from the community, taking refuge in each other’s company, rather than going through the difficult adjustments of integration. Mr. Pailles should also have learned from his cross cultural training that it’s not always acceptable for single people of the opposite sex to spend time together unchaperoned. It could create more problems than it solves. There are also many volunteers who do not wish to be placed with another volunteer. What about personality conflicts between volunteers? There are some people who I wouldn’t have wanted to be within a 1,000 km. Peace Corps is about becoming part of your host community.

Mr. Pailles is likely confusing the State Department’s danger pay differential with State’s hardship pay differential. Peace Corps Volunteers are not present in countries where State Department employees receive danger pay. It’s too dangerous! However, PCVs and staff are posted to countries where State Department employees receive extra pay to entice staff to accept postings in countries where the standard of living is lower than what they are accustomed (hardship pay). State department employees receive the money in a lump sum, however, if the employee leaves post early (i.e. early terminates or is separated), the money must be repaid in full. It should be noted that Peace Corps staff members do not receive hardship pay. In fact, there are many allowances benefits State Department staff receive that Peace Corps staff do not. If you want those benefits, join the State Department, not Peace Corps - different organization, different goals.

Finally, Peace Corps does not separate Volunteers from service lightly. The health and safety of the Volunteer is paramount. If the medical staff do not feel that it is healthful for a Volunteer to continue service, they should not be second guessed. Peace Corps also has a responsibility to the host country to provide Volunteers that contribute in a positive manner to that countries development goals. A PCV’s ability to contribute is not solely dependent upon his technical skills or language capability. It is also dependent upon his ability to live in a culturally appropriate manner that does not threaten his health, reputation or Peace Corps’ reputation. I have served on panels that review the administrative separation proceedings for PCVs overseas and at headquarters. It is a difficult, cumbersome process to administratively separate a PCV and posts do not like to do it. The PCV has the right to appeal to headquarters. If the separation is overturned, the PCV can be reinstated. Peace Corps can improve what it does for PCV safety and security but I’ve never seen an organization where so many staff believe in the mission or worked so hard to achieve it. Volunteers are the heart of the Peace Corps and no one forgets it. Just because Mr. Pailles’ ideas are not implemented does not mean they haven’t been heard. They just aren’t the right solution.

By bankass.com on Wednesday, July 31, 2002 - 12:32 am: Edit Post

I appreciate your kind words about my care for Peace Corps and volunteers. I respectively disagree with a few of your comments. Though you are able to use my name. I am not afforded the same so, I will call you the "staffer". My main concern is one perpetrator or a group of them targeting a volunteer. I had a site mate in my village. She lived on one side of the village and I on the other side. She was not there the night I was threatened. We had our own dilemmas where I served. She had a situation with a guy one day and a young Malian boy came to my home to get me. The incident was stopped and it didn't happen again from the same guy. She was very good to me when I decided to leave. My site mate early terminated approximately on month after I decided to report my incident.

Statistics are one thing and human life is another. Behavior of volunteers is one thing and the responsibility of policy makers is another. When you don't respond with prevention of death, people will have high emotions. Under the Director's during the 1990's, I feel they are partly to blame too. That is my opinion. Just like they have about me.

The world is a different place today. I mentioned three of the honorable volunteers who have been taken from us. There are others who were serving alone too. As for State Department employees, they have a compound with armed guards in some places. We are volunteers. I think we deserve to have another volunteer in a village for prevention.

I know you disagree, but many in the agency don't agree with you either. However, your points about living with a host family is a good idea. I did not live with my family, but I ate lunch and dinner with them. I also took French Classes from my host family father and Fulani classes from my host family mother. They were the highlight of my experience and I owe them a debt of gratitude for there exchange with me and with Peace Corps.

I did not get to mention this in my article, but I feel staff members should be second guessed when the staff member begins a personal opinion campaign against a volunteer. Especially, medical services. I feel the Congress should provide volunteers with an attorney, just like you have at General Counsel (team of lawyers to cover up violations against volunteers). In my particular case, fourteen years,alot of struggle, alot of money has been spent, and not one Director has gone line by line through my file. There has been no apology from the Agency. I was "integrating culturally appropriately too" I am not the only one, either. There are thousands of others. It comes down to old fashion money and arrogance. Your discussion of separating volunteers is a "kangaroo court". Truth rises to the top eventually. In those discussions, the volunteer is rarely present and does not have reprsentation.

There will be a day when staffers won't be able separate "people" so easily without question. As you know, Peace Corps is good at separating volunteers. They have all kinds of "bureaucratic tricks up there sleeves".

The Peace Corps blames Walter for not going by "proper procedures". I think his APCD is at fault for not going to his site at all. That is not supporting a volunteer. What really "takes the cake", is the agency blames the volunteer who is not able to speak for himself. It is always blame the volunteer. That is why volunteers feel the feeling of reprisal from the Agency.

Whether it comes in the coming months or someday, volunteers and all volunteers who served with Peace Corps will be assisted properly.

Martin Luther King says it best, one small injustice to one is an injustice to us all.

"Staffer" I do want to thank you and many of other staffers throughout the years for all the cheap stuff you have cast my way. It has given me experiences I would have never ventured into, if I hadn't joined Peace Corps. I especially want to thank the people who treaded on me. It has given me so much more strength in dealing with injustice in our society.

Always, think to yourself what the other guy or women is going through. Put yourself in my shoes, Walter's shoe's, Larissa shoe's, Karen Phillips shoe's and I believe you may see things different on a new day.

Thank you "staffer" for the book tip. I will try to obtain the title for my "Self Help Section of my book service". Perhaps you should read "Getting to Yes" ,hand it out to your former staff. The staff at Peace Corps could use courses on Conflict Management.

God Bless Marty Meehan and Cynthia Mckinney.

Oh, good luck to you. Peace

By CLB on Tuesday, August 06, 2002 - 8:34 pm: Edit Post

I was very surprised to read that a RPCV suggested that it is "common sense" that volunteers should be paired together at sites for safety reasons.I thought for sure an RPCV would be able to say that that theory would not work across the boards, that every site and PC country would have to be evaluated on its own merit, etc.but I guess I was wrong.

I'm sorry that bankass.com had such a bad PC experience-- a lot of what he says seems to stem from animosity towards the administration for how they handled his situation THEN and I don't think that his portrayal of Peace Corps in this instance is accurate for how Peace Corps is now.

In the PC country where I served we had SEVERAL serious security isssues that had to be addressed-- all of the volunteers who had these issues were moved to new sites, not admin sep'd-- bankass.com's piece seemed to suggest that being "fired" for reporting a security issue at site was the norm. Out of all the incidents that happened during my time in-country, most were incidents at sites where this "two volunteers at every site" theory was put into action. Therefore, bankass.com's theory that this should keep volunteers safe and that the implementation of this theroy is common sense doesn't hold. All of us were moved to new sites. I was moved from a very remote isolated village due to my site being so unhealthy (medical-wise)-- it was a new site, I was the first volunteer there and even though Peace Corps didn't want to keep me there I told them that I wanted to stay there and give it a try-- they agreed to let me do that; I had total say in this. PC then had to give me money to have a ceiling put in my house, and I had to have a toilet dug, etc. to make the house acceptable to PC. I was there for a year and ended up having to move to a different site, a site where I would be replacing a COS'ing PCV and where there were several close PCV's nearby. Two weeks into living at that site a man from my village tried to sexually assault me. I'm sorry but this just doesn't hold up bankass.com's theory-- I am a young woman and I was safer at my very remote isolated village! (For my PC country the most safe volunteers were the ones who live in remote villages.) I reported it to Peace Corps and they wanted me to come to the headquarters office in-country for counseling, they offered to move me if I felt unsafe at that site, they offered to pay for a guard to stay outside my house every night. My APCD and in-country PC staff was nothing but supportive of me and my ability to decide better than they were whether or not my site was safe, how it could be made safer, etc. I realize that every PC country is different, but the point is that this doubling-up theory is without merit and that there are PC countries that do everything imaginable to ensure our safety. Also, if you go into Peace Corps thinking that there isn't or shouldn't be any risk then you've got to be out of touch-- We are moving to developing countries after all and this comes with risk. If this is a risk you're uncomfortable with then you're not PC material. Blatant disregard for volunteer safety is one thing and I think most RPCV's who have served recently can say that PC is VERY concerned, almost obsessed, with ensuring our safety.

By bankass.com on Thursday, August 08, 2002 - 9:27 pm: Edit Post

I wrote a lengthy response and the page refreshed and wiped out my writing. But, I will say thanks for your response. Of course, we think differently about the subject. I have one question. If you don't mind ansewering it. In your particular circumstance, What do you think could prevent your circumstance from happening to another volunteer? Or don't you think anything could have prevented it. I know its a sensitive matter. But we can all learn from our experiences.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-25.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Sunday, November 09, 2003 - 10:37 am: Edit Post

To the RPCV and staffer,

It is not a faulty assumption that two volunteers be placed together at one site for safety. In a new report created by Peace Corps 86% of the violence committed against volunteers was done to volunteers serving alone. Approximately 70 percent serve with another person already. The other thirty serve alone.

In that thirty percent, eighty six percent of the violence against volunteers have taken place.

If that is faulty logic, then who really should be working at the agency to prevent these crimes.

Did you serve?

Did you blame volunteers for these safety breeches then? You are probably used to it and continue that thinking in your work at Peace Corps. This why Mr. Carollo wrote these articles.


If you are such proficient writer and you should indentify yourself as an RPCV or Staff Person. You are already a public figure. What is the difference? People should know the "man behind the curtain or woman".

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