May 15 - USA Today: Peace Corps Security in Question

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, November 22, 2001 - 10:55 am: Edit Post

Read this story from USA Today on how the security of volunteers has been called into question at:

Peace Corps Security in Question

Peace Corps security in question

By Elliot Blair Smith, USA TODAY

MEXICO CITY After meeting with his Peace Corps supervisor, Walter J. Poirier walked out of La Paz's ramshackle City Hall on the afternoon of Feb. 22 onto the Bolivian capital's colonial plaza. He hasn't been seen since.

The disappearance of the 23-year-old Notre Dame graduate brings into focus the dangers the USA's 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers sometimes face as they engage in development work in 77 countries around the world.

In the agency's 40-year history, 20 volunteers have been murdered. But over the past six years, six Peace Corps volunteers have been murdered in places such as Africa and the Philippines. Now, Poirier is missing and feared dead. Some Peace Corps volunteers and their families also complain of a high rate of unpublicized criminal assaults, particularly sexual assaults. The families of some victims, and some former volunteers who were the victims' friends, say Peace Corps security and supervision measures are inadequate.

Since it was formed in 1961 by President Kennedy to relieve poverty in the Third World, the Peace Corps has posted 169,000 volunteers abroad.

They are sent to developing areas to teach English, build schools and infrastructure and improve health and nutrition. Too often, critics say, this enthusiastic corps of recent college graduates and retirees is exposed to conflict, natural disaster and crime.

Peace Corps spokeswoman Ellen Field says, "There is no correlation between any of the crimes nor is there an explanation for the increases" in violence in recent years.

Field notes that Congress allocated $8.3 million to the 1999 budget to improve safety and security at the developmental agency's posts.

But in testimony to Congress on March 15, Peace Corps Inspector General Charles Smith identified continuing flaws in the security efforts, including housing in dangerous areas and cases of inadequate supervision. Smith said the agency failed even to distinguish between medical and security concerns until 1998, when the corps created the Office for Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security.

Volunteers and their families wonder whether better security measures might have averted several tragedies in the field. They offer these examples:

Nancy Coutu, 29, of Nashua, N.H., was raped and murdered before dawn on April 9, 1996, while bicycling to a Peace Corps meeting on a rural road in Madagascar.

Coutu's mother, Constance Coutu of Kissimmee, Fla., says her daughter should not have been stationed alone in the remote Madagascar countryside and should not have been required to commute in pre-dawn hours to attend Peace Corps functions. "If there had been two (volunteers living together), there would be two of them going to the meeting," the mother says.

Kevin Leveille, 26, of Ventura, Calif., was beaten to death at his home in Tanda, Ivory Coast, in February 1998, allegedly after having reported house robberies on three occasions to local police and to his Peace Corps supervisor. Karen Phillips, 37, of Philadelphia was raped and stabbed to death while walking to her home in Oyem, Gabon, late one night in December 1998, after attending a Peace Corps mixer for new volunteers and then stopping at a bar with friends. Brian Krow, 27, of Fremont, Calif., died after falling from a bridge in Cherkasy, Ukraine, in July 1999. Krow's death was reported as a suicide and later was ruled an accident by police. Family members suspect foul play.

Peace Corps spokeswoman Field says volunteers have three months of intensive training in the country of service that focuses on cultural issues and exercising judgment.

Field notes that female volunteers are counseled to travel in pairs. She says Krow's death was ruled an accident.

Brant Silvers, a former Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Africa, says, however, that the Corps is not as forthcoming as it should be about security matters. Silvers says an "outrageous" number of sexual assaults were reported by about 100 Peace Corps volunteers stationed in the Ivory Coast during his two-year tenure.

The Peace Corps confirms volunteers reported seven sexual assaults, including at least two rapes, in the Ivory Coast from 1997 to 1999, and says four rapes were reported there from 1993 to 1999.

"I think security matters could have been dealt with in a more open way," Silvers says. "There was an informal grapevine of volunteer information. We found out a lot of things that were happening in the country that weren't told to us by the administration and felt a responsibility to tell each other from a safety aspect."

In the case of Poirier's disappearance, his mother, Sheila Poirier, of Lowell, Mass., says Peace Corps officials failed to report her son was missing for two weeks.

Poirier adds: "When we put out the alarm, the Peace Corps didn't even know where he was living. Their protocols and policies are totally lacking."

The Peace Corps is offering a $10,000 reward for information on the missing volunteer, who was stationed in the rugged Zongo Valley near La Paz. The FBI recently sent six agents to Bolivia to search for him. They returned with no information about his whereabouts.

By Thomas F. Williams on Wednesday, April 03, 2002 - 4:20 pm: Edit Post

Having returned from PC service in Ukraine three years ago, I am informed that several fellow RPCVs are now experiencing medical problems that are commonly associated with nuclear and toxic waste contamination. Would appreciate any additional information about this subject. Thanks.

By on Sunday, August 04, 2002 - 6:14 am: Edit Post

Thomas, I run a web site called There are thousands of former volunteers who have not been treated correctly from medical services at Peace Corps over the years. There is a 1990-91, GAO Report Called Long Needed Improvements to Peace Corps Health Care Delivery Systems. Many RPCV's receive Federal Employee Compensation from the Department of Labor, once the "Peace Corps Recognizes the diagnosis of the problem". I will bet these volunteers have got the run around from the Agency? Not uncommon. That is why we have been lobbying Congress since 1993 for Separated Peace Corps Veteran rights. The organization was founded by a person who was not treated correctly by Medical Services. Peace Corps has a major infamous history in this area.

What I have found from Peace Corps over my fourteen year struggle with the Agency is a huge bureaucracy who finds it difficult to help former volunteers once they leave service. However they might help. But, the Nuclear Waste and Toxic Dump may have to be recognized as the contaminator and that becomes complicated for them. I would like to speak with you further on this subject. You can reach me at Separated Peace Corps Veterans has limited resources, but we know the Agency, its history and are in close contact with Congressional memebers regarding issues related to Peace Corps Veterans.

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