October 26, 2003 - Atlanta Journal Constitution: To one volunteer, hazards of corps 'worth it'

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: October 26, 2003: Dayton Daily News reports on Peace Corps Safety and Security: Archive of Primary Source Stories: October 26, 2003 - Atlanta Journal Constitution: To one volunteer, hazards of corps 'worth it'

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-165-54.balt.east.verizon.net - on Monday, October 27, 2003 - 1:10 am: Edit Post

To one volunteer, hazards of corps 'worth it'

To one volunteer, hazards of corps 'worth it'

To one volunteer, hazards of corps 'worth it'

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Karin Muller

The harassment and threats escalated as Karin Muller moved from village to village in the Philippines.

In Puerto Princesa, the Peace Corps volunteer fended off her Filipino supervisor's sexual advances by keeping her distance and mothballing her skirts.

In Tagburos, Muller's spurned suitor used his Jeep to run her off the road on the way to market. In Mangingista, machete-wielding convicts almost broke into her hut.

Muller, the once-naive, yet soon wizened Williams College grad learned to keep her distance from lecherous Filipinos and unsympathetic Peace Corps advisers. She insists today, safely ensconced in Decatur, that she's a better person because of it.

"There's always danger when you go to a foreign country," says Muller, 38, a writer and documentary filmmaker who left the Peace Corps in 1990. "I'm one of those who believes it's worth it."

Luck and pluck kept Muller from turning into a Peace Corps statistic. Since its inception in 1961, 250 of its volunteers have died -- at least 20 murdered. One volunteer on average was assaulted or robbed each day last year, according to the Dayton Daily News.

The perils of Peace Corps life are amply detailed in the newspaper series. Many complained of a lack of training and insufficient warnings of the dangers they faced once alone in the mostly rural postings.

And, when they beseeched headquarters for advice or assistance, many recalled the cold-shouldered responses of supervisors. It happened to Muller when she asked her Manila-based boss for help with the Filipino fisheries official who chased her around and around the desk.

"He didn't feel that I was in any immediate danger and that I should just learn to handle it," Muller recalled Friday. "He also felt it was not that unusual for a female volunteer and that it was the sort of thing I would have to figure out how to deal with. And he was right."

Born in Switzerland and raised in the United States and Australia, Muller was a Peace Corps natural, a self-described "21-year-old with fire in her eyes." In 1987, Muller headed to the Philippine island of Palawan and deep into a macho-driven culture where American women are often considered morally loose.

Three months into her stint, Muller hopped a freighter up the coast and away from her lecherous supervisor. She landed at Tagburos, a village on stilts hanging over the Sulu Sea. The local thug-cum-land baron quickly discovered the American woman in his midst and set out to make her his "girlfriend."

When gifts of lingerie failed to win Muller's heart, he terrorized her by Jeep and speedboat.

"The harassment became very difficult," Muller said. "But it was clear to me, by then, that he could do what he wanted and the court system would be of no recourse."

Nor would the Peace Corps. Muller moved further north to the small village of Mangingista. She continued building wells and schools and teaching locals how to make soap, jelly, jewelry and more.

And then the convicts showed up. Intrigued by tales of the white woman eight kilometers away, they fled their penal colony and appeared one evening outside her hut. One stood sentinel while the other climbed atop her roof. Villagers raced to her defense and scattered the intruders who were later captured.

Muller completed her Peace Corps stint with little further trouble. She remains a Peace Corps proponent, albeit with reservations.

"I hope they've changed their training, particularly vis-a-vis women. I think they've tried," Muller said. "But if you don't learn to handle things yourself, you'll not make it anyway. It's a little bit of a sink or swim situation. They could've been more morally supportive, but ultimately they can't be there to hold your hand all the time."

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Story Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Investigative Journalism; COS - Philippines



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