October 28, 2003 - Dayton Daily News: Danger in the highlands of Lesotho

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 28, 2003 - Dayton Daily News: Danger in the highlands of Lesotho

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-165-54.balt.east.verizon.net - on Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - 1:34 pm: Edit Post

Danger in the highlands of Lesotho

Danger in the highlands of Lesotho

Danger in the highlands

Volunteers on edge in scenic African country

By Mei-Ling Hopgood and Russell Carollo
Dayton Daily News

Caption: Peace Corps volunteer Chad DuMond was shot during a struggle with a carjacker in Lesotho in 2003. The small southern African country is one of the most dangerous counties in the world for Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corps "left me completely on my own during a very scary, terrifying period of my life," DuMond said. His case remains unsolved. Photo: Chris Stewart Dayton Daily News

ASERU, Lesotho | Chad DuMond came to this remote country in Africa to help teachers and students raise chickens and grow crops for school meals in a small village. Now, he might have to kill a man.

On Jan. 24, 2000, a carjacker robbed the Peace Corps volunteer, threatened to rape his girlfriend and forced them at gunpoint to drive as he muttered about murder. At a busy intersection, DuMond jammed a pocketknife into the manís neck and tried to wrench the gun from his hands.

It fired. The bullet ripped through the right side of DuMondís chest, sliced through his liver, exited his right side below his ribs and lodged in the car ceiling.

"Jesus Christ, I canít stop the bleeding," he thought as his girlfriend drove him to get help.

In the more than 35 years that the Peace Corps has served in this small, mountainous country, violence has repeatedly marred its scenic beauty.

In October 1984, Lesa Sanftleben was stabbed to death by her gardener. In May 1998, a man struck Jennifer Petersen with a rock, crushing the bones in her face.

In late 1998, volunteers were evacuated, some under gunfire, during a political uprising.

By the time a bullet nearly killed DuMond, Lesotho ó a country about the size of Maryland ó had established itself as one of the more dangerous areas for volunteers. Lesotho and Kenya have reported the most assault cases involving Peace Corps volunteers in Africa since 1998.

A sovereign country set within South Africa, Lesotho seems an oasis amid the crime problems and post-apartheid tension of its surrounding neighbor. But rising poverty, violence and racial hostility in Lesotho keep volunteers on edge.

During a 20-month Dayton Daily News examination, the newspaper found many volunteers worldwide who complained about being sent alone to remote sites with insecure housing, ill-defined jobs, and a lack of attention from the Peace Corps administration. But security concerns take different forms depending on the country and the Peace Corps staff within that country. In Lesotho, an administration that had been slow to react to a longstanding crime problem eventually stopped posting volunteers in Maseru, the countryís capital and most dangerous city, restricted travel and beefed up security training.

Volunteers say the measures have helped. But volunteers have still been assaulted while hiking in the Lesotho highlands, riding in taxis, traveling in South Africa and sometimes while in their homes.

Even the Peace Corps' top official in Lesotho, Country Director Christine Djondo, was carjacked in 2001. During the first half of 2003, Lesotho led all countries with 10 assault incidents against volunteers, ranging from a boy throwing a rock at a volunteer to a death threat.

"Youíre in a different place," said Andrew Snider, a volunteer in 1996-1997. "A certain number of people are going to have terrible things happen to them."

The Peace Corps has boosted its ongoing presence in Lesotho, from about 60 volunteers in 2001 to more than 100 this year. And the agency continues to send older volunteers here, including those as old as 75, so they can have access to South Africaís health care, which is superior to the care in most Peace Corps countries. Volunteers here also are not in danger of contracting malaria, because the mosquitoes that carry the disease cannot survive in the countryís high altitude.

Yellow Springs native Susanne Oldham, 52, a Peace Corps volunteer from June 2001 until September of this year, said both the volunteers and the agency charged with protecting them must be on guard.

"You can always tell a Peace Corps house by the burglar bars," said Oldham, who was burglarized five days after being posted in the town of Mafeteng. "Weíre just conscious all the time."

A poor country with stark contrasts

Almost every day on the outskirts of Maseru, hundreds of women line up outside Chinese-owned textile factories. They huddle under shelters made of packing Styrofoam, hoping to get a job sewing pockets on jeans or shirts, mostly to be shipped to the United States.

Always a poor nation, Lesotho has hit on particularly hard times. Many of the South African mines have shut down, putting many Lesotho men out of work. Unemployment last year hit a staggering 31 percent. An estimated one-third of the population is infected with HIV-AIDS, and the disease is killing many of the wage-earners.

Foreigners, especially whites and Asians, are crime targets because people think they have money, said M.A. Kumi, assistant commissioner of the Lesotho Mounted Police.

Lesotho is called "The Kingdom in the Sky," and the Peace Corps volunteers who come here are often seduced by its natural beauty, friendly villagers and simple life. Many people here speak English as well as the native language of Sesotho.

Michigan native Lesa Sanftleben embraced this culture when she arrived in the northern city of Leribe in June 1984 to build wells in nearby villages. Even though she lived alone in one of the countryís more dangerous cities, Sanftleben, 29, opened up her home to neighbors and hired some who asked for money.

She didnít think she was in danger.

She felt "quite safe actually," said her mother, Clare Ann Hatten. "She was living alone. She was in a house by herself and she didnít feel any fear."

Phil Seder, a volunteer who had lived in the same house previously, said he reported several robberies there to Peace Corps and police.

"Basically, nobody seemed that interested in doing anything about it," said Seder, now 47 and living in Portland, Ore.

On about Oct. 30, 1984, a man Sanftleben had hired as a gardener stabbed her five times and ransacked her house looking for money and other items.

Her body was found Nov. 1.

Sanftleben's attacker was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and was accused of killing another woman in 1999.

She is the only Peace Corps volunteer to be murdered in Lesotho since the agency began sending volunteers here in 1967. Her murder did not stop the flow of volunteers to known dangerous areas, not even to the crime-ridden capital of Maseru, which the State Department has designated a high-threat post since 1991.

Because of kidnappings and attacks on foreigners, the Peace Corpsí inspector general in 1992 said the agency should stop posting volunteers in the capital, and volunteers should be told to stay out of the city. But through 1999, the Peace Corps continued to post volunteers in Maseru, where men with rifles guard storefronts at night and top government officials admit they can do little about the crime rate.

"Maseru is the worst," Kumi said.

Volunteers targets of chronic crime

The muggers would lurk in the bushes and alleys outside the Peace Corpsí old transit house in Maseru, where volunteers came to sleep and hang out.

One night in November 1997, two men jumped out as Gerald Densmore and a friend returned from dinner.

"Weíll shoot," the men demanded. "Give us your money."

"It scared us," said Densmore, 55, who lost about 100 Rand, or $20 U.S. dollars. "We werenít going to mess with them."

Volunteers knew Maseru could be a perilous place; the Peace Corps warned them during training not to walk at night, not to ride in taxis alone and to stay away from certain areas. But they had to get out to do their jobs, buy groceries or go out for meals or to enjoy the nightlife. Often they unwittingly or carelessly strayed into dangerous areas.

Scott Higbee was mugged twice in Maseru, where he was posted as a water engineer from 1995-97. The second time, his attacker pulled a knife and robbed Higbee on his street while onlookers did nothing.

Middletown, Ohio, native Laura Hartman said she and another volunteer also were held at knifepoint in a known rough area.

Volunteer David Monschein, 55, of Klamath Falls, Ore., left Lesotho in December 1999 after he was punched in the face by a man who said he "hated whites."

Monschein was walking near the transit house when he was attacked. The Peace Corps immediately evacuated him and he finished his service as an AIDS prevention volunteer in Kenya.

"It wasnít just a random assault or anything," he said. "It was a hate crime."

The agency eventually opened another transit house at a safer location near the U.S. embassy. Today, no volunteers are working in Maseru, and official visits are limited and monitored, said U.S. ambassador Robert Loftis. The changes have eliminated "almost all" volunteer problems related to street crime in Maseru, he said.

But Maseru isnít the only place where volunteers encountered trouble.

Becki Krieg, 30, who grew up in Cincinnati, was robbed about 10 a.m. outside the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, after returning from a wedding in the United States.

"Only one knife appeared," she said. "They had it (the knife) up to my neck." The robbers took her carry-on and backpack.

Crime is just one of the obstacles facing volunteers in Lesotho. Claire Hilger, who entered the Peace Corps after graduating from Northwestern University in 1997, left a job at a research institute at the National University of Lesotho in Roma, partly because she suspected that the people she was working for were defrauding aid organizations. Hilger also was burglarized twice and threatened with a knife while serving in Lesotho.

"You build up a wall while you are there and learn how to deal with (the crime)," she said. "But I had a lot of trouble when I came home."

In September 1998, the Peace Corps temporarily evacuated volunteers to South Africa after an election protest escalated into widespread violence and rioting, leading South Africa to send tanks into Maseru.

Although the riots followed months of political unrest, several volunteers felt the Peace Corps was slow to respond to the growing threat and had only sketchy plans for an evacuation.

"Iíve actually thought that they were really, really lucky that nobody was hurt or lost or not accounted for," said Nicole Bosustow, who left the Peace Corps shortly after the evacuation ended. "I thought it was very disorganized."

Harvey Ramseur, the Peace Corpsí country director in Lesotho from 1994 to 1999, said the agency had plans in place and managed to evacuate most of the volunteers in 48 hours. No one was hurt during the evacuation, he said.

Ramseur also said crime wasnít a problem during his tenure.

"We didnít experience any instances where volunteers were necessarily in danger," he said. "Yes, there were instances of person-to-person violence. Iím not sure it was anything out of kilter with what weíd see (in other third world countries)."

ĎI was so messed up,í assault victim recalls

The rock had crushed the bones in Jennifer Petersenís face. Blood streamed down the back of her throat. She ended up alone in a deserted section of the hospital.

"It was dark, I was scared and I didnít know where anyone was," she recalled.

After Petersen was assaulted outside a small village in May 1998, surgeons put metal plates in her face. She had about 10 operations during the next 2 1/2 years. She has false teeth. But Petersen, 31, isnít angry at the Peace Corps because she was attacked in her village. Sheís angry because nobody in the agency seemed to care.

"It's like I was never in the Peace Corps," she said.

Petersen, who grew up on a cattle ranch in North Dakota and now lives in Austin, Texas, arrived in Lesotho in May 1996 to convince farmers to plant trees. It was a frustrating job because they needed seedlings, not advice on how to grow them.

But Petersen stuck out the two years at her site in Thabana Morena, a string of villages about 80 miles south of Maseru. She had already arranged for her ticket back to the United States when she was attacked.

On the evening of May 5, 1998, Petersen and her neighbor left a village shop and headed down a dirt path to their home. Her neighborís ex-boyfriend followed and, after a confrontation, struck Petersen with a rock. The blow knocked out six teeth, destroyed her eye socket and left a palm-sized crater in her face.

Taxis only run from her village at night, and no one could reach the Peace Corps, so neighbors found someone to drive the 20 miles to the nearest hospital in Mafeteng.

She remembers a young woman stitching up her lip. And she remembers being left alone.

The next day she was moved to a more modern hospital in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where a surgeon installed metal plates to hold the bones together around her left eye, chin, cheeks and nose.

The Peace Corps brought her back to Maseru, but she said they did little to help her recuperate.

Petersen and her sister, who had flown in from the United States, had to sleep in a hotel because the agency would not let them stay in the transit house. Petersen and other volunteers believed it was because "they didn't want to alarm the other volunteers."

Petersen said she also had to plead with the staff to collect her belongings in Thabana Morena. The Peace Corps paid for her ticket home, but she said she had to "beg" the staff even to give her a ride to the airport.

At no time did the Peace Corps ask her what help they could provide, she said.

"It was terrible," she said. "I was still so messed up."

Once she got home, no one from the Peace Corps checked in to see how she was doing. She assumed the Peace Corps would pay for her health care but found out she would have to rely on federal workers' compensation for her medical bills.

Through all of this, she said, country director Ramseur and his staff made her feel that her needs were an "inconvenience."

"I thought Peace Corps was different from a typical government entity in that it was more about humanity than bureaucracy," she said.

"He just seemed cold."

Ramseur, who is retired and living in South Carolina, said he remembered Petersenís name but could not remember her assault.

"If thatís her story, thatís her story," he said. "I canít comment on it."

Petersenís attacker spent three weeks in jail, but police had to let him go because Petersen wasn't there to testify against him, Mafeteng prosecutor Molefi Posholi said. Posholi said he took Petersenís case file to the countryís top prosecutor in Maseru, requesting that he ask the U.S. government to bring her back.

"Even tomorrow or any other day, if she comes here, weíll get him to court," Posholi said. "The matter was quite ready to proceed."

The Dayton Daily News obtained e-mails between Peace Corps officials claiming the agency tried more than once to contact Petersen. But Petersen said, "I donít remember Peace Corps ever calling and bringing that up."

Meanwhile, the criminal file on Petersenís assault has disappeared. Leaba Thetsane, director of public prosecutions in Maseru, said the casework may have been lost when his predecessor left office.

Several volunteers who served with Petersen said the Peace Corpsí Maseru staff said nothing about what happened to her.

"They were just completely hush-hush," volunteer Eric Giddens said. "If those people (newly arrived trainees) had heard what had just happened, all of them would have just decided to pack their bags and go home."

Corp changes practices for safety

After the Petersen attack, after the evacuation of volunteers to South Africa, after another harsh critique of the postís safety practices by the Peace Corps' inspector general, after an overhaul of Peace Corps security policies worldwide and after a new country director took control in 1999, the post revamped its safety practices.

The agency installed new radios ó requested by volunteers for years ó and began using mobile phones. The office set detailed criteria to help staff better evaluate safety and the needs of posts before they place volunteers. Site visits from the country director became more regular, volunteers said. Incidents, kept quiet before, became highly publicized at meetings and in newsletters.

Volunteers who faced any type of threat were sent home, they said. Shana Bombrys of Michigan was asked to leave in 1999 after the estranged wife of a man she was dating threatened to have her killed. She and other volunteers said the new country director, Carol Chappell, even considered outlawing the dating of locals.

The next country director, Christine Djondo, a former member of the Ohio University faculty, limited how many times volunteers could visit Maseru.

Some volunteers said they even felt that the new rules were too strict, although others said they made them feel safer.

"I feel like if something were to happen they will come and get me immediately," said Kevin Fleming, a Xavier University graduate serving in the southern village of Quthing.

Lesotho can still be a dangerous outpost for Peace Corps volunteers. Diana Myers, 24, of Canby, Ore., cut short her service by three months this summer because she grew weary of looking over her shoulder.

"You never know: Are you going to be mugged today? Is someone going to break into your house? Are you going to be on a taxi that flips over?" she questioned.

"I think that was part of the experience, which is why I left. Because I didnít really sign up for that."

A shot to the chest leaves a changed man

Chad DuMond said his vision began to fade as his girlfriend rushed him to a medical clinic. He kept putting his hand over the place where he was shot. He looked over and mouthed "Will you marry me?" Before they arrived at the clinic, she said yes.

The Peace Corps medical officer rushed him to a South African hospital, where doctors pulled out his intestines to make sure that no other organs had been hit.

He said the Peace Corps staff in Lesotho saved his life. But after he returned to the United States, the agency never contacted him to update him on the criminal investigation, he said.

The Peace Corps "left me completely on my own during a very scary, terrifying period of my life," DuMond said.

His case remains unsolved. The man who shot DuMond walked away. Detectives found a witness who could not identify him. Investigators "are stuck," assistant police commissioner Kumi said.

Like Petersen, DuMond had to fight to get the U.S. government to pay his medical bills, and he received only three months of counseling paid through workers' compensation.

DuMond, 36, is recovering slowly. After about a year of physical therapy he now swims, jogs and bikes regularly. Deep scars crisscross his torso. He is reluctant to go out at night.

He lives in Fort Collins, Colo., and manages the North America regional office for Londonís Middlesex University. He never married his girlfriend in Lesotho.

DuMond still values the 20 months he spent in Lesotho: the people, the language, the culture. He came home a changed man.

But he almost didnít come home at all, and thatís stuck with him, too.

"The biggest thing is that my whole life has changed in terms of being so aware of how fragile life is," he said. "And how easy it is to die."

Elliot Jaspin contributed to this story.

[From the Dayton Daily News: 10.28.2003]

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Story Source: Dayton Daily News

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



By sammy (nms1.telkom.co.ke - on Friday, February 22, 2008 - 12:53 pm: Edit Post

where can i find David monschein worked in kinango..anyone to help!

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