July 28, 2002 - Op-Ed: A Returned Volunteer responds to the GAO Report
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July 28, 2002 - Op-Ed: A Returned Volunteer responds to the GAO Report
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.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out; Special Reports; Peace Corps - Safety and Security
By karen Little on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 4:41 pm: Edit Post|
I agree that new policy should demand that volunteers be paired for safety.
I was medically separated after being raped in Bolivia in 99. I was critizized for being "afraid to travel alone". After I was raped my "social behavoir" was what ultimately ended the so called "investigation". I am outraged as many others are. I just found this web site today!
I feel terribly for Walter's family as I also could have disappeared and PC Bolivia would ever have known. I was 5 hours from the city and lived 1 hour from the closest phone. I was raped in the city, not at my site. I am also from MA and we shared the same special investigator from DC.
I felt ashamed for a long time which blinded me from truly understanding the lack of accountability on behalf of PC administration in keeping volunteers safe.
I want people to know that contrary to what PC says, on an individual basis, they do not provide support to victims. They look for fault and make volunteers responsible for themselves.
This is an overwhelming responsibility for the volunteer who is so willing to embrace a new culture, language, and be "courageous"; all admirable qualities that are often later seen by administration as naivety. How quick they are to criticize the "survivor" I wonder what they do in situations when volunteers are unaccounted for or are too afraid to come forward because they blame themselves. The policy must change.
I hope that volunteers can stop being so competitive and get over trying to save their communities alone. American women especially are not respected for being independent. This is an American value. Women should never be alone at thier sites. It only causes suspicion. In agricultural economies families are the center of life, not individuals.
PC should have Anthropologists going to the country and advising the Administration so they can truly understand the culture before they ask volunteers to operate in it! You can't learn cultural norms from a book or a report; the volunteer must experience it first hand in a protected environment.
After training I was sent to my site with a slip of paper in spanish w/ directions. When I arrived everyone was speaking Quechua. For the first 3 months I had no idea what was going on. I was not prepared to protect myself or serve.
Thank you for your honesty and your courage. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an awful ordeal. Those of us, who served in the early years of the Peace Corps, should have paid better attention and demanded, from the beginning, that the "blame the victim" mentality never take root in the Peace Corps. You sound strong. I hope that your life is going well, now. Take care.
By Daniel (0-1pool136-96.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - 22.214.171.124) on Monday, January 12, 2004 - 7:05 pm: Edit Post|
I just saw this posting tonight. Thank you for speaking about your experience. I feel bad that Peace Corps itself didn't handle your situation well and doesn't learn from it. As you can tell by all my writings, I am outraged by Peace Corps irresponsibility in cases like yours.
Have faith Karen that Peace Corps will change some day for the better and we will stop "blaming the victim" in incidents of violence, rapes and threats against volunteers.
I agree whole heartly with Joey Roll's comment.
My telephone number is here 978-462-3868.
Hearings are coming in the House and the Senate based on the negative experiences we have gont through and how Peace Corps can change to make it better. I hope something comes from it. I have my doubts because we are dispersed all over the US. Have you read the Dayton Daily news articles?
Your website (www.bankass.com) appears to have been hacked and replaced with a virus.
I am interested in reading more about your pursuit of Peace Corps safety, so please post to this site again when your website has been fixed.
By daniel (ca1462-ch01-bl07.ma-cambridg0.sa.earthlink.net - 126.96.36.199) on Sunday, June 26, 2005 - 7:58 pm: Edit Post|
Kenny, I took it down.
I came by the other day and you weren't there.