March 11, 2003 - Guinea listserv: Peace Corps closing Guest Houses Worldwide

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 - 10:13 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps closing Guest Houses Worldwide





Read and comment on this memo from Guinea Country Director Lisa Ellis explaining the Peace Corps' position regarding regional houses and that this is not just being applied to Guinea but is a worldwide policy that came from the Peace Corps Inspector General's Management Implication Report (# 02-03) and the IG mid-year report, both of which highlighted mounting concerns regarding Guest House policy and its interpretation on the use of hostels:
"Volunteer hostels are at cross purposes with the mission of the Peace Corps. By nature hostels tend to draw Volunteers together and away from involvement with host country nationals. Volunteers should be encouraged to participate in the culture of the host country."
Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn said it best almost 40 years ago when he traveled to Nigeria in 1965 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 when he simply told them that the Peace Corps should not be in the hotel business. Read the memo at:

Memo from Guinea Country Director Lisa Ellis*

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



Memo from Guinea Country Director Lisa Ellis

In the past month I have received letters from some of you requesting that the regional houses remain open. All of the letters I received were thoughtful and well presented. Thank you for your professionalism in addressing an issue about which you feel very passionate. And to those of you who acknowledged that there are some problems at the houses, I appreciate your honesty. As you read this newsletter, I think you will see that many of the things that you said were important to you at the regional houses are still available in the new regional facility configuration. In addition, I have also received emails from some of your parents and Friends of Guinea regarding the same issue. As is Peace Corpsí policy, I did not respond to your parents and friends. Headquarters is responsible for supporting family and friends stateside. Attached to this newsletter, you will find a copy of the memo that was sent to those concerned in the states from the Region Director for Africa. I would like to take this opportunity to address all of you on the regional house issue, and to re-iterate some of the things Iíve said to you since I arrived.

At the end of August, I attended a VAC meeting where at least a third of the PCVs in country at the time were present. I told the PCVs that PC Washington intended to issue a worldwide policy regarding the use of PCV houses. Guinea had been held up to Congress in an Inspector General Report as an example of whatís wrong with PCV houses Ė excessive drinking, drug use, and prostitution Ė although it is not the only PC country with these problems. I would add to that list that there are PCVs in Guinea who abuse the regional houses by staying there for weeks at a time, which keeps them from their site and their work. I know many of you feel that Guinea is being penalized for the behavior of PCVs who are no longer in country, but I must tell you that these same types of problems persist today. Since I arrived, PCVs have gotten into shoving matches bordering on fights with the guards who will not allow them to bring prostitutes into the houses. And very recently, I received reports that a group of PCVs were drinking excessively and using drugs in one of the Volunteer houses. Whether or not you want to believe it, the problems persist, and the houses make it easier for Volunteers to engage in inappropriate behavior and keep them from their jobs and their sites which is contrary to Peace Corps policy.

At the VAC meeting, the PCVs were adamant about keeping the Conakry PCV House open. Some very persuasive arguments were made. I agreed with the Volunteers that a PCV House in the capital city was useful and needed, although my reasons were a bit different than the PCVs. I petitioned the Region Director in October 2002, and he agreed that we could keep the house in Conakry.

After visiting the regional capitals and talking with the PCVs who were present, I felt that there were less persuasive arguments to keep the regional houses open. However, I saw two big problems in completely closing down the regional houses. One, PCVs used their regional capitals as a business center, and for some PCVs it is impossible to get to the regional capital and back to site in the same day. Two, the communication hub (computers, internet, phone, and HF radio) that we had created at the regional houses was vital for Volunteers, their work, their families, and for communicating with Conakry. Thus, the decision was made to reconfigure the regional houses into regional facilities rather than closing them down completely. This reconfiguration will take place around June 2003. These new facilities will have an IRC with computer and phone, HF radio, and a sick room. The PCVL will live at the facility, so yes, it will also have a kitchen and living room area. The guards and driver will still be at the new facility. There will be hours of operation for the facility, though, most likely 7am to 11pm.

As with your transportation allowance, PCVs will be given a quarterly allowance for a certain number of days to stay at designated hotels in the regional capital. All of the hotels are places where I have stayed that I think are well maintained and secure. Peace Corps is in the process of negotiating the price that PCVs will pay at these hotels. The Boke regional house will remain open as, currently, I am unable to locate an appropriate public housing alternative in that town.

In December, PC Washington did issue a policy requiring closure of Volunteer houses. Here is an excerpt from the memo from the Chief Security and Compliance Officer in Washington, DC:

This memorandum is to provide clarification on the Peace Corps policy regarding hostels and Volunteer use of hostels. Over the last few years, the use of these properties has become widespread and uncoordinated, and sometimes unsupervised. The Inspector General brought this issue to our attention in two separate documents: a Management Implication Report (# 02-03) and the subsequent IG mid-year report, both of which highlighted mounting concerns regarding our policy and itís interpretation on the use of hostels. In general terms, it is prohibited for the Peace Corps to provide, sanction or condone the use of hostels by Volunteers unless previously approved by the Director of the Peace Corps. Manual Section 218 (6) states:

Volunteer hostels are at cross purposes with the mission of the Peace Corps. By nature hostels tend to draw Volunteers together and away from involvement with host country nationals. Volunteers should be encouraged to participate in the culture of the host country. The Peace Corps prohibits the establishment of Volunteer hostels without the approval of the Peace Corps Director. Volunteer hostels may be approved only after it has been shown that moderately priced capital city accommodations are either not available or pose a threat to the health and safety of the Volunteers on official business.

As I hope you will realize, the decision to reconfigure the regional houses is not personal and is not a mandate made to Guinea alone based on the IG report from 2 years ago. It is a worldwide Peace Corps policy. There are at least a half a dozen countries in Africa that have already closed their PCV houses. I hope that you will come to realize that you are getting much more in these regional facilities than other PCVs are who work in Africa.



Read background on this story in the following two stories PCOL has already posted on this subject at:

Peace Corps responds to parents' concerns about Guest Houses in Guinea





Read and comment on this memo from Henry McKoy, Peace Corps' Africa Region Director, on the plan to reconfigure the Guest Houses in Guinea. Regional houses currently have an Information Resource Center, a sick room, a kitchen, living room, bedrooms that sleep 15-20 Volunteers, phone and radio communications, 24-hour guard service, and a vehicle and driver. The new Regional facilities will retain everything that is currently found in the Regional houses except the dormitory facilities. The Country Director has researched safe lodging options in hotels and hostels in the Regional capitals and has determined that these accommodations are better suited for volunteers' needs. Read the memo at:

MEMORANDUM*

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



MEMORANDUM

To: George Kohl and Maureen Feely-Kohl, Denise Kelly, Cindy and Ivon DIOUF

From: Henry McKoy, Africa Region Director

CC: Lisa Ellis, Country Director, Guinea

Date: February 11, 2003

Subject: Regional Houses in Guinea

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the closure of the Regional houses in Guinea. I would like to take this opportunity to address your concerns.

Peace Corps/Washington and Peace Corps/Guinea together have been studying this issue for a long while, and in recognition of the importance of Regional gathering places, the Country Director has had very productive discussions about the rationale for reconfiguring the houses with the Volunteer Action Committee, Volunteers during in-service training, and new trainees. Consequently, working together, Peace Corps has developed a working plan that meets our needs without sacrificing the Volunteer experience or safety. Peace Corps/Guinea is not closing the Regional houses, but is reconfiguring two of them into Regional facilities, and moving them to new locations. Regional houses currently have an Information Resource Center, a sick room, a kitchen, living room, bedrooms that sleep 15-20 Volunteers, phone and radio communications, 24-hour guard service, and a vehicle and driver. The Peace Corps Volunteer Leader also lives at the house.

The new Regional facilities will retain everything that is currently found in the Regional houses except the dormitory facilities. The Country Director has researched safe lodging options in hotels and hostels in the Regional capitals and has determined that these accommodations are better suited for our needs. They are by nature better equipped to lodge large numbers of people, and supply them with the necessary facilities. They are safe locations, and close to the business centers that Volunteers use. The third house is not being reconfigured at this time specifically because appropriate public lodging facilities have not yet been identified. Volunteers currently receive a transportation allowance to visit their Regional capitals once a month for business purposes and will receive a lodging allowance as well to cover the cost of staying in a hotel or hostel.

It has been Peace Corps' experience that the Volunteer's site is the safest location in the Host country. Volunteers become members of the community through their work, their ability to speak the local language and their association with friends in the community. Volunteers who leave their sites on a regular basis run the risk of not establishing these vital relationships and of experiencing a disconnect from their community members. In terms of security concerns related to civil unrest, political instability and crime, experience has shown that Volunteers are much safer away from the Regional capitals and at their sites.

However, Peace Corps fully realizes the importance of Volunteers leaving their sites for business and personal reasons, and in sharing their experiences with their fellow Volunteers. Peace Corps/Guinea has a policy in place that allows Volunteers two nights per month away from their sites without taking vacation time so that they may take some time to visit their neighboring Volunteers. The change in the structure of the Regional houses will not affect that.

Safety and security of the Volunteers remains Peace Corps' highest priority as does providing an environment in which Volunteers can accomplish the goals of their mission. We strongly believe that the new arrangement is safer for the Volunteers and that Volunteers will be better served in terms of their own work and personal security.

Again, thank you for your letter.



Read the original story that we posted on Guest Houses in Guinea:

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

VIA E-MAIL


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.

Sincerely,


George Kohl
Maureen Feely-Kohl


cc Kevin Novotny
H. McKoy
Jody Olsoen

More about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Guinea



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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guinea; Guest Houses; PCVs in the Field; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Country Directors - Guinea

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By Gazgaroz (gmmdcccxxx.dsl.saunalahti.fi - 85.76.243.31) on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 - 2:26 am: Edit Post

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By Elissa (gmmdcccxxx.dsl.saunalahti.fi - 85.76.243.31) on Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - 7:22 pm: Edit Post

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