February 3, 2003 - PCOL Exclusive: Parents of PCVS in Guinea upset by closure of Guest Houses - plan to write Congress

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By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, February 08, 2003 - 4:18 pm: Edit Post

Parents of PCVs in Guinea upset by closure of Guest Houses - plan to write Congress

Read and comment on this email message which was forwarded to us from an RPCV listserv and that we are reprinting with the permission of the authors on a parent's recent trip to Guinea to visit their PCV daughter in the field and their concern that the new Peace Corp Country Director, Lisa Ellis, plans to close the regional Peace Corp Houses which they think this is a big mistake. They are sending the attached letter to the Peace Corps and will begin writing their Senators and Congressmen urging them to intervene.

The question of Guest Houses is a old one that goes back in Peace Corps history for at least 35 years. Remember the program in Africa in 1965 where Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn had to travel to Nigeria for two weeks to meet with restless volunteers, some of whom were threatening a sit-down strike because the Peace Corps was closing down the hostels it had been operating for volunteer's convenience and clamping down on the use of motorbikes. The story is in the Peace Corps classic "Keeping Kennedy's Promise" by C. Payne Lucas and Kevin Lowther and the "Peace Corps Volunteer" magazine devoted a special issue at the time to Vaughn's trip and his meetings with volunteers where he simply told them that the Peace Corps should not be in the hotel business. Read the story at:

Recent Trip to Guinea*

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

Recent Trip to Guinea

We recently returned from a visit to Guinea where we learned that the new Peace Corp Country Director, Lisa Ellis plans to close the regional Peace Corp Houses. We think this is a big mistake as the regional houses provide a supportive and secure infrastructure that can not be replaced by an office and housing PCVs in hotels. We've attached our letter to the Peace Corp below and will begin writing our Senator's and Congressman urging them to intervene. We would urge you to do the same to express your concerns. There is an attachment letter at the end of this letter.

The email addresses are:
lellis@gn.peacecorps.gov Lisa Ellis, Guinea Country Director
lnovotny@peacecorps.gov Peace US West Africa or Guinea.
hmckoy@peacecorps.gov Kevin's supervisor.
jolsen@peacecorps.gov Deputy director

Please send us a copy of what you send and if you have any other ideas
please let us know.

George Kohl gkohl@cwa-union.org
Maureen Feely-Kohl mkohl@mc.cc.md.us


Letter to the Peace Corps Country Director in Guinea

Lisa Ellis
Country Director, Guinea
BP 1927
Conakry, Guinea, West Africa

February 3, 2003

Dear Lisa Ellis:

We returned from a visit to Guinea a month ago, where we visited with our daughter Ellen who is a second year PCV. We spent several days in the Labe regional house and a week at her sight. We are quite concerned that you are planning to close the regional houses. We think the regional houses play a critical role in facilitating the mission of the Peace Corp and providing a safe environment for Peace Corp Volunteers.

Ellen is four hours direct travel time from Labe and Labe is eight hours travel time to the capital, Conakry. She has no communications in her village, or access to external resources, nor any safe haven within a day's trip of her site.

We saw the Labe House as an important center for her life as a Peace Corp volunteer and important security measure.

As a center and gathering point, it provides a secure spot for PCVs to meet and compare notes. This peer learning is a critical part of PCV experience. Our understanding it that in other countries that have closed regional houses, the early termination rates skyrocket because this critical support system for volunteers in the field is removed.

Importantly to us, the regional house provides a safe place where parents can communicate directly with their PCV children. The ability to communication every 4-6 weeks home will clearly be restricted as the house provides an environment in which one can work as well as wait for a returned phone call. It can take us parents up to eight hours to get through to the House (if we are lucky and phones are even working) and while we were there many parents calls came through either late at night or early morning when an office would be closed. As a result the ability for a PCV to work while waiting to receive calls is important to Peace Corp as well as Parents. Without a regional house, this will be eliminated along with the emotional security that comes from knowing its possible.

The regional house provides resources that the PCVs in the field don't have. While we were in the Labe house over the week of Christmas, every morning we saw PCVs up early working on the computer with internet access and sharing thoughts with one another and problem solving. This environment can not replicated outside the structure of a regional house.

In the new age of addressing security concerns, it is reassuring for parents to know that there is a secure gathering place within a day's trip of site. Given the vagaries of everyday life in Guinea, I have no confidence that a similar situation can be replicated at a hostel or hotel. The ability to arrive and be admitted is very valuable and creates a significant peace of mind for any parent who has visited a regional house. Particularly in this time of heighten concern for security, exposing field Peace Corp volunteers to unprotected, insecure (in any sense of word) housing in various regional city hotels in unacceptable. My understanding is that this is one of the reasons that the Conakry residence/office was just moved to a new location.

Lastly, the current political situation in Guinea, that of an impending regime change seems to recommend maintaining regional houses and providing a secure point to gather field volunteers in the event of a social eruption, even a small one.

I understand that you are acting in response to recommendations of a three year old inspector general's report that complained about drugs and prostitution in some regional houses. Five observations on this report. First, we saw no signs of drugs and prostitution. Second, that specific class of PCVs of which the IG complained have cycled through Guinea and their behavior shouldn't destroy an important institution for this and future classes of PCVs. Third, it seems that it is a management issue that falls at the feet of the area directors and the house managers. Fourth, with the growth of the number of PCVs in Guinea, the need to deploy management into an effective regional infrastructure would seem to grow as well. Fifth, we have entered a different era in terms of security the merits maintaining the security that a gated office/residence complex can provide.

I understand that you plan to close the three regional houses by this spring. I urge you to reconsider your decision. As we will be sharing our concerns with others, please keep us informed of your scheduled actions.


George Kohl
Maureen Feely-Kohl

cc Kevin Novotny
H. McKoy
Jody Olsoen

More about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Guinea

Read more about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Guinea at:

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guinea; Special Interests - Guest Houses



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