May 7, 2003 - The Independent: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) pulls all volunteers out of China over Sars fears

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: May 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: May 7, 2003 - The Independent: Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) pulls all volunteers out of China over Sars fears

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 7:49 pm: Edit Post

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) pulls all volunteers out of China over Sars fears





Read and comment on this story from The Independent that British Aid Group Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), a highly respected volunteer agency that places volunteers overseas, has ordered its 120 volunteers working in China to leave the country because of the Sars outbreak. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which sends professionals abroad to work in deprived communities, said it had reached its decision with "extreme reluctance" because it could not guarantee adequate treatment for its workers if they contracted the virus. The Peace Corps pulled all its volunteeers out of China one month ago citing similar concerns. Read the story at:

Aid group pulls dozens of volunteers out of China over Sars fears*

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



Aid group pulls dozens of volunteers out of China over Sars fears

By William Foreman in Beijing

05 May 2003

A British aid group yesterday ordered its 120 volunteers working in China to leave the country because of the Sars outbreak.

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), which sends professionals abroad to work in deprived communities, said it had reached its decision with "extreme reluctance" because it could not guarantee adequate treatment for its workers if they contracted the virus.

The withdrawal came as the Chinese government announced elementary and middle schools will stay closed in Beijing for two extra weeks because of the Sars threat. When officials closed the schools two weeks ago, they said classes would start again on 7 May. The decision to extend the closure is a sign that officials doubt if they will soon be able to say they have the outbreak under control.

The Xinhua news agency reported that the extended school closure would affect 1.37 million children. Authorities are planning to hold correspondence classes for pupils using television broadcasts and the internet.

The Health Ministry reported 69 new cases of Sars in Beijing the smallest number in the past week, when the daily figure for new infections ranged between 96 and 152. The city's total number of cases is 1,803, nearly half the nation's total, the ministry said.

Seven more people died of Sars, raising the death toll on the mainland to 197. Four of the deaths were in Beijing, and the city's total number of fatalities stands at 100. The total number of infections on the mainland was 4,125, the ministry said.

Several foreign embassies and companies are allowing families and non-essential staff to leave China to avoid the risk of catching Sars.

VSO said on its website: "This decision has been taken with extreme reluctance. However, we feel that the risk of VSO being unable to provide adequate medical assistance to volunteers in the event of illness and/or emergency is too high in the current uncertain situation."

The website notice, posted on Friday, also said VSO's programme office in Beijing would remain open "for the time being" and that "staff are extremely busy supporting volunteers and arranging travel".

VSO had about 120 volunteers in China, said Ben Fender, a British Embassy spokesman. Calls to VSO's Beijing office went unanswered yesterday, which was a national holiday. The 45-year-old VSO organisation sends doctors, teachers and builders around the world and has about 2,000 volunteers in the field.

Sars has also battered China's sports world. Football officials called an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss Fifa's decision to shift the women's World Cup away from China, the Beijing Youth Daily reported. It quoted Zhang Jilong, the vice-chairman of the Chinese Football Association, as saying: "Right now, we really can't say anything. We'll have to discuss a detailed countermeasure."

The Beijing Times quoted Ma Liangxing, the women's football coach, as saying the decision would have an "extremely big effect" on his team.

"Originally, we had the home advantage but now we'll have to adjust to another pitch and time differences," he was quoted as saying. "We'll have to reschedule our practice matches and revise all of our other plans."

World football's governing body made the announcement on Saturday, but has not given a new location for the tournament. The outbreak has already forced the cancellation of women's ice hockey and track cycling world championships due to be held in China. (AP)
SARS outbreak forces PCV Kathryn Blouin to leave China





Read and comment on this story from Maine Today on PCV Kathryn Blouin who left China last month. On April 5, the Peace Corps told Blouin and the 71 other volunteers in China to fly home. It meant a long train ride to catch a four-hour flight to Beijing, China's capital. The volunteers were told to sit by windows on the train and wash their hands often. In Beijing, they stayed in the airport until they could fly out.

The decision to pull out was not unusual for the Peace Corps, which frequently evacuates volunteers because of civil unrest or, more recently, terrorism threats. "We're constantly monitoring," said Doreen Sabina, a Peace Corps spokeswoman in Boston. Although SARS had not been reported in the province where Blouin and the other volunteers worked, Sabina said the Peace Corps temporarily suspended all work in China as a precaution. The agency plans to resume and expand work in China as soon as it is safe to do so, she said. That precautionary move appears to have been wise.

Now, Blouin says, she's worried about her former students. They've e-mailed her about how the disease is spreading closer to the school where she taught. Read the story at:


Teacher forced to say quick goodbyes*

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



Teacher forced to say quick goodbyes

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

CAPE ELIZABETH Kathryn Blouin wasn't ready to leave China, and she wasn't particularly worried about SARS. But the Peace Corps abruptly terminated her teaching assignment a month ago as the mysterious illness spread through other parts of the country. "There was no closure at all. It was, 'Get up and go,' " she said while sitting in her family's home Monday. "I didn't want to go, but I figured the Peace Corps knew what was going on."

Now Blouin worries about her former students, who sent e-mail messages in the past week telling her that the disease is spreading closer to the school where she taught. Her experience also has given the 24-year-old Cape Elizabeth High School graduate a firsthand understanding of how the disease could spread so easily in China.

Blouin joined the Peace Corps in June 2001, and was expecting to come home this June.

She had studied Chinese culture and language while in high school and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and was happy to get an assignment teaching English to Chinese college students. She worked in Daxian, a city in the mostly rural province of Szechwan, more than 700 miles southwest of Beijing.

It was a rewarding assignment, she said. She lived in an apartment on campus and had about 250 students in 16 classes.

The first she heard of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was in March while traveling to Bangkok.

"The first cases were in November, but we hadn't heard anything about it," she said. International health authorities have blamed China's lack of reporting about the outbreak for helping the disease spread out of control.

And even after it was reported in China, Blouin said, "the media was downplaying it. We didn't realize how serious it was."

Blouin said it's not hard to see other reasons why the disease may have spread there. Polluted air, crowded cities and public transit systems and the lack of hot water for washing are part of daily life.

Peace Corps supervisors started issuing daily e-mail alerts about SARS to the volunteers around mid-March. When Blouin's parents started worrying and e-mailing her about the disease, she forwarded the alerts to them so they would know the authorities were monitoring the situation.

About two weeks later, on April 5, the Peace Corps told Blouin and the 71 other volunteers in China to fly home. It meant a long train ride to catch a four-hour flight to Beijing, China's capital. The volunteers were told to sit by windows on the train and wash their hands often. In Beijing, they stayed in the airport until they could fly out.

Blouin still wasn't worried, even though she saw people wearing surgical masks at the airport in Beijing. "It's pretty common for people to wear masks in China because of the air pollution," she said.

The decision to pull out was not unusual for the Peace Corps, which frequently evacuates volunteers because of civil unrest or, more recently, terrorism threats. "We're constantly monitoring," said Doreen Sabina, a Peace Corps spokeswoman in Boston.

Although SARS had not been reported in the province where Blouin and the other volunteers worked, Sabina said the Peace Corps temporarily suspended all work in China as a precaution. The agency plans to resume and expand work in China as soon as it is safe to do so, she said.

That precautionary move appears to have been wise.

Blouin's former students now say the disease has reached the province. The government canceled an annual travel holiday and, they said, authorities are giving medicine to students and trying to sanitize facilities at the school where she taught.

"I'm nervous for my students," she said.

Blouin is now looking for a new job, and hopes to work for the Peace Corps, perhaps in Boston. Someday, she said, she also hopes to return to China, and visit her former students to say a proper goodbye.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com
Another Story about a PCV who left China





Read and comment on this story from the PoconoRecord on Melissa Fulton who was happily ensconced as a Peace Corps volunteer in central China when she received a telephone call April 5 telling her she had one day to get to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. When she arrived, she and dozens of other volunteers were whisked to a waiting airplane and flown back to the United States. After repeated reassurances that the deadly pneumonia was not going to force an evacuation from China, Fulton barely had time to say good-bye to all the people who had come to define her new life. "It was really shocking the way they did it," she said

The Peace Corps volunteers were not evacuated because of fear that they would contract SARS, she was told. It was that the companies the Peace Corps uses to evacuate seriously ill volunteers from host countries were refusing to fly to China because of the disease. So if volunteers became ill from anything, the Peace Corps would not be able to get them out. Seriously ill volunteers are always returned to the United States because the quality of care provided by host country hospitals is often inferior.

Still, the disease was so distant to the people of the region where Fulton was living that none of her students had heard of it, and the adults couldn't believe that was the real reason she was being evacuated. "They all believed it was political. They thought America was going to bomb China," Fulton said. The sudden pullout angered administrators at some of the other schools hosting volunteers, although not at her school, Fulton said. The Peace Corps has been in China for only 10 years and Fulton fears their sudden departure may have burned some bridges. "They see American arrogance. This is American arrogance right in their face," she said.

Read the story at:


SARS disrupts volunteer's mission*

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



SARS disrupts volunteer's mission

By ERIN DOOLITTLE

Pocono Record Writer

edoolittle@poconorecord.com

Like a thief in the night, SARS yanked Melissa Fulton from an adventurous life in China and landed her back home in Snydersville.

Fulton, 23, was happily ensconced as a Peace Corps volunteer in central China when she received a telephone call April 5 telling her she had one day to get to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. When she arrived, she and dozens of other volunteers were whisked to a waiting airplane and flown back to the United States.

After repeated reassurances that the deadly pneumonia was not going to force an evacuation from China, Fulton barely had time to say good-bye to all the people who had come to define her new life.

"It was really shocking the way they did it," she said.

In photographs of her on the last day, with students and teachers at the school where she taught environmental studies, her eyes are red and puffy from tears.

Now, she waits at her parents' home wearing a skirt printed with Chinese characters on a Sunday evening for news of when she can return.

The Peace Corps volunteers were not evacuated because of fear that they would contract SARS, she was told. It was that the companies the Peace Corps uses to evacuate seriously ill volunteers from host countries were refusing to fly to China because of the disease.

So if volunteers became ill from anything, the Peace Corps would not be able to get them out. Seriously ill volunteers are always returned to the United States because the quality of care provided by host country hospitals is often inferior.

And volunteers are always evacuated on short notice to protect them, as a large group of Americans in one place, from terrorist attack, Fulton was told.

Still, the disease was so distant to the people of the region where Fulton was living that none of her students had heard of it, and the adults couldn't believe that was the real reason she was being evacuated.

"They all believed it was political. They thought America was going to bomb China," Fulton said.

The sudden pullout angered administrators at some of the other schools hosting volunteers, although not at her school, Fulton said.

The Peace Corps has been in China for only 10 years and Fulton fears their sudden departure may have burned some bridges. "They see American arrogance. This is American arrogance right in their face," she said.

Until she left for China, Fulton had always lived at home. She is a 2002 graduate of East Stroudsburg University.

"I felt such a sense of loss. It was my whole life. It was the first time I was on my own," she said.

Fulton was given the option of ending her tenure as a volunteer, signing up to return to China as soon as possible, or going somewhere else. She chose to return to her former post.

Fulton said she thinks she is as much at risk of catching SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, in the United States as in China.

In the province where she lived, there are now nine reported cases. In Miayang, a city of 600,000 where she was living, there are none.

Globally, SARS has stricken more than 6,300 people, killing 449, according to the World Health Organization, which has been tracking the disease.

China's initial secrecy about the disease, which originated there last November, was not because it was trying to fool the world, in Fulton's opinion.

"Your 'face' is really important (in China). It's cultural. They didn't want to look bad to the world," she said.

Fulton spent the first two months of her two-year commitment training in central China, living with a Chinese family, learning the language and taking classes in how to teach environmental education, before her placement as a teacher.

By the time she was evacuated she had been teaching 14 classes of 55 to 75 teenagers each for seven months. She also led a class on American culture, put on a schoolwide Halloween party, participated in a ethnic dance troupe, and was hard at work on a textbook so teachers there can continue her curriculum after she leaves.

Fulton's students were about to begin presentations on endangered species when she was forced to leave.

"I was so disappointed I didn't get to see the results of all that work," she said.

Fulton seems genuinely mournful that she didn't get to say good-bye to all who touched her life in China.

"Some of the people I miss most are the people I ran into every day. The people at the market, the woman I bought fruit from. Her prices were fair and she knew my language limitations. The woman I got my tofu from. I didn't really know much about them. I just disappeared out of their lives. I miss all the small people," she said.

Fulton keeps busy, largely in continuing her ties with the school in China. She's trying to get books for the library, and establish pen pals for the kids, something they said they wanted.

She plans to talk about her experiences to local schoolchildren, but she doesn't want to take a job that demands too much.

"I don't want to get settled; I want to go back to China," she said.

Copyright © May 05, 2003, Pocono Record
Return to www.poconorecord.com
A Story about another Peace Corps Volunteer evacuated from China who returned on her own to China





Read and comment on this story from the San Francisco Chronicle on Peace Corps Volunteer Julie Chan who was teaching epidemiology in Chendu, which is in Sichuan province, far from the SARS outbreaks. Two weeks ago, she was pulled out of China with about 100 other Peace Corps volunteers. "There was a knock on her door on a Friday, and they told her to close her bank accounts, and on Sunday she was on a plane back to Washington," Chan's mother said. "It was the parents of the volunteers who put on the pressure."

Chan, who has a master's degree in epidemiology and public health, got on a plane a week ago and flew to China on her own, paying her own way, because she had only two months to go in her two-year stint teaching Chinese medical students. She didn't want to quit. Read the story at:


Battle-weary Chinatown faces epidemic of fear*

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



Battle-weary Chinatown faces epidemic of fear

ROB MORSE

Monday, April 28, 2003

When you ask Tane Chan how to spell her name, she says, "That's Tane, as in 'high octane.' "

That describes the personality of Chan, who owns the Wok Shop, a cozy kitchen supply store on Grant Avenue in San Francisco's Chinatown. On Sunday morning, she was wasting a little low octane, as she sat double-parked in her old Volvo and waited a half-hour for a guy to leave a parking space. He was waiting for his wife to return from shopping.

"This is the way it is every day in Chinatown," she said. "But I always get a space."

When I described Chinatown as a mall without parking, she said it was a pretty good description. She turned off the Volvo's engine, and we talked as a few driblets of tourists walked by, perusing the kites, clothing and kitchenware on Grant Avenue.

We talked about the latest ugly disease with an ugly acronym -- SARS -- and how it's affected Chinatown's tourist trade.

"We've been hit big-time. First it was the economy, then it was the war, then it was protesters, and now this," Chan said. "What happened to Toronto was unfair, and when I saw that, I thought it could happen to us."

So far, there has been only one probable case of the infectious disease in San Francisco, reported last week in a traveler returning from a city affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome.

"It is blown completely out of proportion," Chan said.

And why might she think that?

Well, her daughter Julie Chan, who has a master's degree in epidemiology and public health, got on a plane a week ago and flew to China.

"That's how confident she is," said Chan, who admitted her own doubts. "I'm opposed because I'm a parent, but what can I do? She's 26 years old."

Only two weeks ago, Julie Chan had been pulled out of China with about 100 other Peace Corps volunteers -- even though she was teaching epidemiology in Chendu, which is in Sichuan province, far from the SARS outbreaks.

"There was a knock on her door on a Friday, and they told her to close her bank accounts, and on Sunday she was on a plane back to Washington," Chan said.

"It was the parents of the volunteers who put on the pressure."

Chan said her daughter went back on her own, paying her own way, because she had only two months to go in her two-year stint teaching Chinese medical students. She didn't want to quit.

"China never had a plan," Chan said. "They're doing this for the media -- closing the theaters, closing the schools. They're doing it just to show they're sorry for their mistakes when this started. It won't do any good."

It is hard to know what would stop the spread of respiratory diseases -- and it may be particularly hard in China.

"There are different cultural practices in China," Chan said. "The first thing my daughter does in her class is write 'No spitting' and 'Cover your mouth when you cough' on the board. But her students keep on spitting -- and these are medical students."
Finally, the man started to pull out of the parking space, and Chan said, "I hope my car starts."

She drove her three children to school and lessons in that 18-year-old Volvo. She paid thousands of dollars to put them through good Eastern colleges and graduate schools, but it has paid off. They've done her proud.

More than that, her son Mark Chan used his computer skills three years ago to put her store on the Web at www.wokshop.com.

"It's keeping us going," Chan said of her trade on the Internet, where viruses aren't as frightening as SARS. "We sent our first wok to Africa yesterday, and we were so excited. I wrote the man, saying, 'Mr. Edwards, your wok costs $14.95 and shipping is $30. Are you sure need a wok?'

"He wrote back, 'When you need a wok, you need a wok.' "

Chan has been shipping woks and making e-mail friends in places as diverse as Portugal, Oklahoma and London.

"Don't ask me why London," Chan said. "Maybe they think it's more authentic if a wok comes from San Francisco than London. Maybe they think Chinatown in San Francisco is the next best thing to China."

Many people around the world do. Let's hope they keep coming here despite the SARS virus.

"What is it, the fear of the unknown?" Chan asked.

Yes, and it's one more unknown to fear.

Rob Morse's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. His e-mail address is rmorse@sfchronicle.com.

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