A time of personal responsibility?

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: October 26, 2003: Dayton Daily News reports on Peace Corps Safety and Security: What RPCVs Say about this series: A time of personal responsibility?
Read the series on Safety and Security here

Leave your comments on the series below.

Read comments by RPCVs here, here, here and here.

By Matthew Dufresne (user-2ivfu2c.dialup.mindspring.com - on Sunday, November 02, 2003 - 2:28 pm: Edit Post

I've thought a lot about the issue of safety and security since I first became a PCV in 1994 and the recent articles in the Dayton Daily News have made me think once again about this extremely important topic. I would like to say that I was a volunteer in Nicaragua from 1994-1997 and that I was also part of Peace Corps Staff State-side for nearly 5 years after my PC service. This being said, I feel that PC definitely has room for improvement on their side as far a safety, security and volunteer support goes. One of the most important areas of improvement should be in standardizing how APCD's, CD's, PCMO's and other PC staff interact with volunteers. Keeping in mind that it's necessary for all PC programs to have the ability to adapt their programs to the given needs of their volunteers and countries.

Overall, I believe that Peace Corps is living up to its duty to provide safety and security training and follow up on these issues as they come up. One challenge that is difficult for many of us to understand in Peace Corps, and even more so in the general public, is that there are many more factors that are involved than most of us understand or realize. Things such as medical conditions and personal issues of given PCVs, which can't be discussed with those they don't directly involve, internal issues specific to given countries, the need to provide quality volunteers to safe and deserving communities and the fact that we are all adults. Is there any other organization that we as the public and members of the organization demand so much of? Do those of us who work for any other company expect that this company provide us with complete support both during work hours and in our personal lives? I think not. Peace Corps is special though and we all know that.

This being said, I believe that the most important improvement is going to be from a personal standpoint. We are all given extensive language, cross-cultural, technical, health and security training before our actual service begins. This is given to us to help our transition to our new communities, to better our abilities to serve our host communities and to ensure our safety and security as much as possible. It's what we do with this training that most affects what sort of experiences we have and how effective we are in our interactions. Most of us are also given the opportunity to live with host families who give us a wealth of knowledge and insight into how to live and work safely and successfully in our host countries.

I, like most PCVs, was inexperienced as to what my position was to be in my host community home. I approached my experience from a very typical, Americanized standpoint, that being that I was free to do as I saw fit and privileged enough to be given the opportunity to do so. From my personal experience I have found that this type of attitude and experience prevails in many PCVs, young and old. Herein lies, what I consider to be, a major area for improved interaction, safety and success of PCVs. As a personal example, in training we were warned against going up a certain hill that overlooks the capital, which is very popular with tourists and thieves alike. I and a couple of other volunteers (male & female) figured that we'd be ok to go up this hill since we were in a group, going up during the day and young and healthy. So we went against the warnings of our trainers, locals and our host families. What came of this was that we were held up at gun point and lost our money and personal belongings. We were lucky that's all that happened to us though. It was a real wake up call for me and my friends, unfortunately old ways are hard to change and we all continued to make decisions that weren't the wisest in retrospect. My point being that we have to remember that we are all adults. We need to make wise, educated and thoughtful decisions that are in our and our communities' best interest and not in the interest of always having fun and doing exactly what we want. This is where personal responsibility comes into play.

I realize that most of us can probably agree with this, but many of us have a difficult time going against what our culture has taught us. It's much easier to blame others for our indiscretions, but it's a fatal flaw in what our society has been teaching us. It's very easy for many of us to say that Peace Corps hasn't done something for us when something goes wrong, but a lot harder to take responsibility for our own actions or the role we may have played in the outcome. I don't want anyone to think that I'm blaming the victim, because I'm not, but I think there are times that we can have more influence over our situations than we may think. Do we chose to drink, use drugs or party? Do we chose to go to places that we've been warned against? Do we chose to associate with people our host families or others have warned against? Will be take our malaria medication? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves that have or will affect the situations we find ourselves in.

This isn't to say that we can completely resolve all of the security and safety issues with more volunteer responsibility, but this combined with Peace Corps training and the better practices that have been suggested for Peace Corps would go a long way. I feel that this is the only long-term, sustainable answer to the present and ongoing concerns.

I don't however have an answer as to how to make people more responsible. That would entail a major shift in our culture. But, I think that we have to start somewhere and sometime and there's no better time than the present and no better place than the Peace Corps. If Peace Corps is not about change, adaptation and responsibility, then I don't know what it is about. So let's rise to the occasion, look at how we can be more responsible volunteers, how to better direct the Peace Corps in its support of its volunteers and how to embrace the challenge we have ahead of us.


Matthew Dufresne
RPCV Nicaragua (1994-97)
Former Peace Corps Recruiter (1998-2003)

By Anonymous ( on Tuesday, November 04, 2003 - 3:44 pm: Edit Post

Did you advise self defense courses while they were waiting to be hired? How many volunteers did you lose?

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-56.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Sunday, November 23, 2003 - 9:27 am: Edit Post


So you are for the death of 27 Volunteers without changing policy.

You are for 2,000 plus victims of violence.

No Matt you are wrong period.

I am an adult. Because you defend death and bad policy of people being vitimized I am calling your throughts cowardice.

People like you aren't tough at all in fact you are cowards not to stick up for colleagues who have been hurt. Yea, I said you are a coward. You speak spanish Matt. Why don't you volunteer your time to go to Bolivia and find a volunteer.

People who suck up to the administration talk like Matt. It is your Personal Responsibility to have safe policy when you are sending volunteers to El Salvador and Latin America. You are the recruiter. You have alot of courage to send people into harms way. I am sure if it was a member of your own family you wouldn't barking up a tree like you are now. Coward call for good Safety policy.

By Anonymous ( on Sunday, November 23, 2003 - 5:06 pm: Edit Post


By the way they have been sending two volunteers per site since 1990.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-91.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Sunday, November 23, 2003 - 7:41 pm: Edit Post

That is not true.

Approximately 86% Percent of victims of violence have been from the approximate 25% who still serve alone. They still have a policy that volunteers are serving in villages alone without another volunteer. Alot of the victims of violence and death has occured in these type of placements.

I can't believe I am addressing you. You never reveal who you are or whether you were a volunteer.

Disinformation needs to be refuted.

By Anonymous ( on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 3:09 pm: Edit Post

Why would thses twenty five percent serve alone. The two volunteers per site is always an option.

I was a 1990s volunteer.

By Laura P ( on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 - 1:12 pm: Edit Post

I guess this is a response to everything here so far. But first to Bankass.com: Did you actually read what Matt wrote? And I do not mean that in an insulting, snide way. What I mean, is that you made a lot of comments to him, that seem to have no connection to what he wrote. He never said Peace Corps (PC) should not change their policy. In fact, he comments that that is what PC is about--the willingness to change. But rather, that in addition to a change in policy, volunteers should also be more responsible. This is true. We take a lot of chances as volunteers, chances that probably shouldn't always be taken. We do it partly out of a sense of adventure, partly because we think nothing will happen. Perhaps that last part sounds bad or silly, but the reality is most of the time nothing bad does happen.

PC can be dangerous. It's a fact. Anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. It's not always dangerous, but let's face it, you are going to less-than-stable third world countries to live and work for 2+ years. Nothing about that should sound like a safe, comfy lifestyle. If that is what you are looking for, do one of those everything included tours. Don't do PC. Now, does this mean, that we should all just accept that it is dangerous and ignore it? No, but neither does it mean that we should pretend that we can make it just like the upper-middle-class communities most volunteers come from. Yes, there are improvements that PC can make to help make things safer. Having 2 volunteers at a site is probably not a bad idea, but certainly no guarantee of safety. And PC should look at their safety training, as well as their responses and response time. All this needs to be done. And yes, volunteers do need to be more aware of their choices and make them more responsibly. But even with all of this, with a total revamp of the system, PC will still be dangerous. It is the nature of the work, and of the places volunteers are sent. It should be taken into consideration when you sign up. It isn't something everyone will want to do.

I was a volunteer in West Africa. My home was robbed several times, but I, fortunately, was never personally assaulted. But that was not for lack of recklessness. I made some poor choices while I was there, and I was lucky. Not everyone was. One of my best friends there was raped. She was in a site with multiple volunteers, and she was careful about her choices, but she was still attacked. The PC staff handled the situation as best as it could be handled, and gave her all the support they could. She went home for further counseling and such, and she chose to return after a few weeks and finish out her service. These situations are not easy, and there is no easy answer, and there is no way to prevent all of them. But between PC and the volunteers there can always be improvement. And I don't think attacking people in print is going to improve any of it. I think Matt made some very valid points. There is responsibility on both sides, and both sides need to be looked at and improved. PC is not consistant in their responses to these situations nor in their training for preventing them. That needs to be changed. But we also need to recognize that PC is dangerous, and will always be dangerous, and that should always be a consideration when joining.

By Matt Dufresne (wdcsun18.usdoj.gov - on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 - 4:18 pm: Edit Post


Thank you for saying what I maybe didn't do a very good job of in my original message. There's definitely room for improvement on PC's part, but we always have to remember our part, as volunteers, in keeping ourselves as safe as possible. And sometimes that isn't even going to be enough. I'm thinking of the recent kidnapping case of Dru Sjodin in North Dakota; here's a woman who was in a public place, in broad daylight, talking on the phone in a rural Midwest town, and she's still kidnapped and possibly killed. There are certain inherent dangers in life that we can't avoid, but once again, this isn't to say that we shouldn't continue to try to do a better job all around.

Thanks again Laura for your support and to bankass.com, I'm sorry that you are as bitter and angry as you are to someone you don't know. Please understand that we are both working towards the same goal though, which is making PC service a better and safer experience for all.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-77.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 - 9:53 pm: Edit Post

To Laura and Matt,

Yea, I did read the article. Peace Corps is not providing safety. Its a bunch of bunk. They don't pair volunteers together to prevent death. Secondly, they treat some of us who have gone through these things like it didn't happen and actually manufacture separations so we are not treated right after service.

Peace Corps has a record on me that was fabricated because I had a safety incident and reported it.

No until they start to help heal the past and prevent death and violence toward volunteers, I will be in the face of any volunteer who defends the erroneous actions.

I went into the Peace Corps because it stood for something. It has lost its backbone on telling the truth or helping its own. It will be changed. Change is coming in this country and some of us won't take weak policy at Peace Corps.

I will be filing in Federal Court against them again in the coming weeks. They deserve it. No more cover up.

By Beth Yehaskel (cs68201189-5.austin.rr.com - on Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - 2:33 am: Edit Post

Is everything really this black and white? Are you in the face of anyone who defends specific erroneous actions, or people who defend (or speak positively about) the PC in general? Is it possible that while some incidents have been poorly handled, others were handled well, and aren't we free to cite those examples as loudly as the others are cited?

I understand your anger towards PC. That is your right, and something that I do not blame you for given your experience. But by denying those of use who had positive experiences the right to a voice, you are showing us the disrespect that you seem to be arguing so adamantly against.

I've seen some really positive dialogue come from these discussion boards, and I hope that rather than use them for your personal vendetta (one that I might think you have every right to pursue if I knew more about your situation), you might consider widening your perspective to include the masses of us who felt that the Peace Corps did right by us. Why is it that your comments make me feel like you want to punish me for what happened to you? Where can that possibly get us?

At the risk of inciting an attack, I feel compelled to point out that there is no circumstance in this world where you could hope to be completely protected from death, violence, or abuse. I have had friends killed in car accidents, from illness, from drug overdoses, fires, and so many other circumstances in so many other situations...including a friend who died in PC. As much as I might want to be able to blame someone or something for all of those incidents, to have someone to yell and scream at, the bottom line is that in most of those cases it wouldn't help. I am not saying that some things aren't preventable, and that responsibility shouldn't be assigned. But I'm simply pointing out that I'm not going encourage someone to sue their university if they were raped in a dorm, or mugged walking home from the library at night. A university takes measures to prevent harm from coming to it's students, but it's unrealistic to expect them to protect everyone from everything. Like PC, there is only so much they can do. I do think that how well things get handled after something happens is an issue - one that seems more closely tied to the PC staff who handled it, more than the institution itself. For every badly handled situation, I can think of at least one well handled one - those need to be considered as well.

While I question a lot about this series, I'm happy if it causes PC to take a closer look at safety issues and the way incidents are handled. I've seen some amazing ideas and suggestions on these message boards, and I look forward to more postings that offer meaningful insights about how to move forward from here.

Best wishes to all.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-34.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Wednesday, January 07, 2004 - 8:29 pm: Edit Post


I don't know you, but I will say I respect most every volunteer. I am sure you contributed a great deal in your service.

However, I will be "in the face of apathy and ignorance". Too many have died due to unsafe policies at Peace Corps. Due to apathy and not responding correctly to all volunteers, Peace Corps creates more and more problems for itself. It is a good program, however there is corruption and cover up in many cases related to safety.

Much of the above does come from volunteers who have a mind set " it didn't happen to me, so what's the problem". The Problem is rights of average citizens who join the Peace Corps and don't have redress or are put in situations alone just so Peace Corps can put up more numbers of volunteers serving.

I won't put up with volunteers who blame people who have gone through difficulty. It is an easy response to complicated situations. When a Bolivian Volunteer went missing his superiors started to cast blame, when another volunteer from Bolivia reported a rape an administrator cast blame and in my situation they covered up my incident and still do today with the utmost fight withholding twelve pages with my name on it under so called national security.

I will not move on or budge from taking positions opposing other volunteers who say Peace Corps is provding better safety. I will not hear that non-sense. The system of prevention has not been implemented. There is no lawyer working on behalf of volunteers in general. Medical Services is a mess and FECA claims are out of control. Additionally, there is mentality in the RPCV world that if you had problems with Peace Corps you don't fit in. Thousands aren't serving the third goal because of an administrator at Peace Corps or a safety breech that happen at one time in our life.

I will continue pursue my case and the pursuit of just policy at Peace Corps so that all volunteers are safe, have the right to work in their field after service, get appropriate health care without discrimination and have legal rights as citizens of the US. Remember we are the program not the administrators at Peace Corps.

It is not a personal vendetta against volunteers, its about getting our rights as citizens, not being humilated for our service and protecting volunteers who are in service or going in from bad practices at Peace Corps.

I may not be making alot of friends in my methods and the approach I take. Actually, I have lost friends who disagree with me on these subjects from volunteers, to Congressional Staffers to Congressmen themselves. However, when volunteers and law makers defend injustice I will fight back. It is the only way Peace Corps will change. They don't respond otherwise. Our voices be won't drowned out by people who just want to talk about change and then twenty years later we have the same old Peace Corps doing the same old practices which have hurt alot of folks.

It will be changed so that all volunteers have rights and administators will be held in check of capricious actions against a volunteer, a volunteer's rights is in tact and they can't ruin people's lives.

Peace Corps is for service not for games and lies.

There are solutions to these problems and the RPCV community needs respond for the volunteers. Not to defend adminstrators who produce ill thought safety plans on the ground, don't supervise correctly, lie about volunteers and harm the people who make up the real rank and file. US

Approximately 45% percent of Volunteers have left service not completing their full term. Peace Corps folks will fight my numbers but there has never been a true count from the GAO on how many have left service early. Of those folks how many are not being served by Peace Corps in one way or another. We need to make it better place for everyone, not just the selected folks who have "calm seas while they serve".

The reason I quote this is the "fear of reprisal" which Peace Corps did to me and some of my friends so eloquently.

I will write more tonight because we will no longer be drowned out by former volunteers in the Senate, House and other former volunteers. Volunteer's lives are more important than there personal preferences.

By Beth Yehaskel (cs68201189-5.austin.rr.com - on Thursday, January 08, 2004 - 1:41 pm: Edit Post

This is definitely one of your stronger postings, in my opinion. I prefer your references to facts and your thoughts about the future to name calling and finger pointing. I do wonder about your consistent references to "games and lies" that I've seen in most of your postings. I'm not really into conspiracy theories. I think that rather than pointed moves on the part of PC to hurt volunteers and cover up actions, it has much more to do with disorganization, non-cohesive approaches to safety from country to country, and lack of clear procedure in dealing with incidents when and after they happen.

I think that the PC does need to look at situations like yours and those of your friends, to learn from them and understand when and why things didn't work. Likewise, they should study the experiences of my friends (negative experiences, obviously, but ones that were handled well) and understand what was done RIGHT. They can then begin looking at ways to educate incoming volunteers about safety, see what steps PC can take to protect volunteers in country, and then how to handle situations in country when things happen (and things will happen - there is no way PC could possibly do anything to stop that). Equally important is how to handle situations after volunteers who suffered incidents return, whether they returned early or late.

The biggest challenge is going to be that PC, as we all know, is obligated to work with the governments and legal systems that exist in whatever countries they are in. This makes it difficult to implement a uniform system for handling situations. This is exacerbated by the fact that each situation is completely unique, and the needs of a volunteer post-trauma will also be unique. Perhaps a flexible framework of some kind is needed, one that offers guidelines for dealing with incidents based on past incidents, but guidelines that allow for the specifics of each situation to be considered. Nevertheless, it will be impossible for PC to seek out, charge, and lock away country nationals for crimes against PCVs unless the local/national system in place is willing and able to lead and support those decisions. Unfortunately, in third world countries, the corruption, lack of organization, and common use of bribes all make it impossible for PC to guarantee that it can actually make this happen. There will be people who raped or murdered left alone because their brother is chief of police, and PC won't be able to do anything about it. That needs to be understood, and PC can't be blamed for that.

As far as "strongly encouraging" volunteers to leave early after suffering an incident, and not responding to the post-service medical/emotional needs of a PCV after they return to the states - this is inexcusable. PC needs to look at it's office structure and do what is necessary to create a small staff of people specifically assigned to cases who can assist volunteers in getting the medical care, reimbursements, etc. that they need when they get home. I like the idea of legal aid available to RPCVs, but if the goal of that legal aid is to persecute PC, there is obviously a conflict of interest in asking them to set it up. Better for them to create a system that deals with the issues before they need to be escalated to that level. PC is obviously short staffed in some areas - after Carollo sued PC for taking too long to respond to his requests for information, they had to hire someone full-time just to deal with him and the research he needed. Of course, Carollo is clearly more threatening than most RPCVs - but we need to make sure PC has the funding (or has their budget reorganized) so we can see PCVs get the kind of response that Carollo got without having to sue.

To respond briefly to your comments about other volunteers blaming PCVs who suffered difficulties - this may be true, but I certainly don't blame PCVs for incidents that happened. To qualify that - I have seen/heard of incidents that happened after a PCV exercised poor judgement. That doesn't mean they deserved what happened, but it does mean that their behaviour (often behavior that PC warns us against right from the start) contributed to the incident. And if we're going to play the blame game, unfortunately, we have to look at the behavior and decisions of the PCV at the time of the incident the same way we look at the behavior of PC. This is touchy ground because again, this doesn't mean that a volunteer deserved what happened, but it does mean that we can't only place blame on PC if a female PCV gets drunk in a bar, flirts with a guy, walks home alone at 2am and gets assaulted in the street by said fellow. Obviously the fault is with the ass**** who would commit this crime, but the actions of a volunteer in this incident clearly played a large role in him being able to commit the crime.

I don't think that these stories should be covered up - quite the opposite - get them out. But do not make these stories the norm (according to the numbers I've seen they are definitely a minority), and representative of the PC experience. I don't see myself anywhere in the stories Carollo choose to focus on, and to many average Joes on the street who weren't in PC, Carollo's articles now represent everything they know about PC as an organization. If everything I knew about PC came from what he printed, I'd certainly want to shut this organization down as I've heard non-RPCVs tell me after they read his series.

These dialogues are important and valuable, and I hope that people like you who represent the side of PC that hasn't received attention until now will continue to contribute to productive dialogue with RPCV's. Together we can all contribute to make a difference - we just all have to be willing to play together (people who suffered, people who didn't, and PC as an org). Arguing amongst each other, we will only expend a lot of energy and time to no good end.

Again, I'm sorry for the injustices you've suffered, and I hope that PC can learn from you to stop these kinds of things from happening in the future.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-38.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Thursday, January 08, 2004 - 4:22 pm: Edit Post

I don't have much time but I will respond later because I need to work and I spent all day advocating on the hill on these issues and writing those two postings.

I really don't want to persecute Peace Corps as a whole. Most of all I want an apology and my family does too. A certain journalist did ask me in 2001, how he could get records on Peace Corps. I told him he would have to go to Congress or Court. I don't think Carrollo is dangerous. I think he is putting out the facts which can be debated but the incidents happened reagardless. Peace Corps still refuses to respond. Gaddi Vasquez or any other director could stop the cover up on our wrongful separations tommorow. When Walter Poirier went missing I blamed myself for not protesting hard enough on safety policy.

I have more qualifications than this director and many of the other director's of Peace Corps themselves. How can they hold back careers. How can they go to bed at night knowing a volunteer was killed because they did not implement the right policy. I don't sleep well when I hear of thse incidents. I know what I went through and am going through and it will not happen to another person.

Maybe you are right. I shouldn't get so personal at times and my attacks at times can be miss guided due to my struggle with my Peace Corps case. (Matt I shouldn't have called you a coward, but I disagree with you.) (How is that mom, Just kidding)

Just ask my Congressman from my district about my case, He and his wife came to shake my hand at a function and I chewed him out right in front of alot of other important folks. He told me I was wrong and I went and "tore into him just like I did Matt, for his apathy. His wife though listened as I listed the woman who were killed in service, alone. He used to be my friend. We don't communicate and it is the same with the Senator's from my state. Kristy Lord, Myself and Walter Poirier are from their state.
It is my personal opinion, that neither has done anything for Peace Corps safety. It is one of the reason he is being defeated in his Presidnetial race.

I have filed in court twice without a lawyer and sued Peace Corps. The last time my case got through on my own without an attorney and the judge wrote it appears you have been wrongfully denied FECA for 14 years. That is alot of money too. If I ever get the money I would pay my bills, pay my student loans and put the rest into a non profit for all separated volunteers who have struggled like myself.

I will be filing again in court again soon on two counts against them. I don't feel bad about it. Its a disagreement and I will win because the god and the truth is on my side.

I was wronged by People who intentionally used my safety incident to characterize me in false light. I don't believe in conspiracies either. But, I do know there ignorant and stupid folks who like to cause harm on others and some the Peace Corps officials are good at it, this becomes "Peace Corps" as a whole.

They hold twelve pages under so called national security over my head with my name on it. Who are they protecting and as an American citizen why can't I refute who they are protecting, when no one was at my site the night they threatened me with my physical safety. The court system is one thing, but sixty minutes may be better.

I will write letter thanks for the letter.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-38.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Thursday, January 08, 2004 - 5:54 pm: Edit Post

I am sorry Matt for the names. I get upset when people were are staffers and don't call for safety out of fear for their jobs. That hurts us all and it helps Peace Corps perpetuate cover up of wrong doings to us as separated volunteers.

My trust of any staff or former staff is dubous because trespasses against me and my family and all the people who are victims of violence who aren't getting some sort of relief or justice or could have prevented death. I don't care how Politically correct or incorrect it is there are directors who talked about change such as Carol Bellamy, Mark Gearan, Mark Sneiderman, Chuckie Baquet, Lloyd Peterson and now Gaddi Vasquez are suspect in my book. 31 Volunteers. 2,285 plus victims of violence. Who do they think they are? These are injustices just like the poverty issues we are working on in our service.

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-19.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 9:01 am: Edit Post


I guess you didn't like to suing part and the fact that we are agreeing to some degree with the Dayton Dailey news.

I hate ot break the news to you but we are going further than DDN with our concerns.

Remember, each day, they violate us by not doing the right thing.

I agree it does not have a cohesive policy of paring volunteers together.

By Beth Yehaskel (cs68201189-5.austin.rr.com - on Saturday, January 10, 2004 - 12:38 pm: Edit Post

Wow - we went from a good discussion right back to sarcasm, assumptions, and lack of productive dialogue.

Allow me to address your assumptions about me. First off, if you have valid reason to sue (and again, I'm not familiar with any details of what happened to you at all) then you have every right to do so and should. I have no opinion about your situation with this because I know absolutely nothing about your situation. My reference to suing in my post referred to theoretical situations, and was mentioned only to illustrate my opinion about volunteers taking personal responsibility for their safety, and understanding that PC cannot be wholly blamed for every unfortunate event that occurs.

As for you "breaking the news" that "we are going further than DDN with our concerns," I'm not sure what you're talking about, or which of my comments or opinions you might be referring to. Again, if legal action is warranted, I have no problem with that (is suing and such the "further" that you're talking about?). I think it's great that the DDN brought these issues to light. I don't like the way in which they did it - using a few examples to characterize the entire PC and the experiences of 170,000 is blantantly wrong. If there is a story here, why did the article need to put the heavy spin on things and not talk about any of the positive experiences? Many volunteers were interviewed but their stories not used because they refused to blame PC, as much as the interviewer wanted them to do so. It's too bad, because I think these stories could have stood strongly on their own, and his choice to sensationalize them only diminished the possibility of them being properly addressed. Instead, he just put a lot of people on the defensive and gave them a lot of ammunition to use, shifting the focus from the stories onto the information he didn't share.

When you say "Remember, each day, they violate us by not doing the right thing." I have no idea what you're trying to say. Please be more specific. Who are THEY? Who is US? What is the RIGHT THING? How do they VIOLATE? If you want to educate and get people to understand your point of view, you are going to have to sacrifice melodrama for good, old-fashioned communication skills.

As for your last sentence, I'm not sure how carefully you read my posting, but I never mentioned pairing volunteers together. I think there are many policies that are not cohesive. You seem very fixated on this issue of pairing volunteers throughout all your postings. It's fine to have your opinion on it, and I respect it. Of course, if you want me to respect your opinion, you have to respect mine too. And I think that pairing volunteers might be a great idea for many locations, but not necessarily for all. I also think that volunteers should have the choice. I wouldn't have wanted to be paired at all. Would you have the PC force this on me?

I hope you'll return to the dialogue that you began with earlier, the one in which we were communicating and you were getting valid points across. Again, sarcasm, accusations, assumptions aand name-calling will only put your debate opponents on the offensive and will invalidate anything worthwhile that you might have to say.

Best, Beth

By bankass.com (0-1pool136-9.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Sunday, January 11, 2004 - 12:39 pm: Edit Post

I wrote the top postings in haste and will try to take alittle more time to articulate my beliefs about "personal responsibility" and
"response-ableness" on the part of the Peace Corps as a whole.

We been have pointing to these gaps in programming for years, since 1993. The Peace Corps will use other volunteers to refute our concerns on Attrition and Safety concerns, thus they are "swept under the rug" and more safety breeches occur.

Thousands of articles over the 40 years of Peace Corps have been positive. Everybody knows Peace Corps mission and goals are good, but many know "behind the scenes that Peace Corps has not responded correctly to the 31 volunteers dieing in six years and that 2,285 plus victims of violence over the 1990's and today are 125% more than previous decades in which Peace Corps has been in exisitence.

We should not have negative experiences in Peace Corps. By making standards and goals in that direction is the appropriate way to making a quality program. Prevention in safety should be number one, capitalizing on people's mistakes or misinterpreting someone's service hurts the whole program. 45% percent attrition rate of volunteers is too many people. Let's make the goal 5%, so that retention happens.

This has everything to do with safety because volunteers undereport incidents because the FEAR OF REPRISAL from Peace Corps (the individuals, who are administrators who have not gone through experiences who make assumptions about us, wrongfully)

Some people disagree with me, but I stand firm on pairing of volunteers. Otherwise, you leave a loopwhole and then every volunteer wants to squirm through it until we have more volunteer falling in peril. It will reduce violence against volunteers. I would not use the "force". I would require two volunteers at every site for support in man and woman power needs in a village and as a support mecahnism to the other volunteer. Reducing violence comes from the situations in our given villages we serve. Two will reduce violence more than more administrators and wasting money on bureaucratitizing and demoguing (spelling?) the safety issue. Let's move in that direction.

Its easy to debate pairing of volunteers with statistics. However, Peace Corps and the people arguing against it can't refute that 86% percent of the victims of violence during this period were alone at the time of their attack, threat, or rape. One element you can't measure in statistics is, how many incidents were deterred by having two volunteers at a site.

In suing, I thought you meant me. In theoretical terms too, I do believe Peace Corps should be sued, if the agency is not responding to a class of people who are continously discriminated against,hurt, blamed, shunned, wrongfully separated, ignored in the face of a death,doesn't properly memorialize the people who have persihed in service, doesn't thoroughly investigate missing or dead volunteers, are holding back former volunteer's career's, hold bogusly recorded service records, doesn't provide health care for former volunteers because the system of FECA is not coordinated correctly, performs medical malpractice on a regular basis in separations, and doesn't provide a safe work environment by "poor planning, lack resources and support of volunteers on the ground".

When I say this, remember the Peace Corps policy should change tommorow, but my assumption is it won't because of their track record with us, "Separated Peace Corps Veterans (all volunteers who have medically separated, early terminated, administratively separated and the families who have lost a family member in Peace Corps,"isn't that good.

For sarcasm, I do have sarcasm just like everybody else. Some people don't like my methods or direct talk, but it has been effective in getting closer to change. I don't have any apologies for that part. I think you would have to know me better and you would understand that sarcasm is sometimes part of my humor.

Each Day they violate us: The Peace Corps has a false record on me and thousands of others. Each day, there system of separating folks (through Medical services and in the administration from bad assumptions from administrators, and also, usafe work environments in placement (because of risky placement practices). For instance, put yourself in the shoes of someone who was raped in service and their administrator implies "she wanted it" and or an administrator wrongfully categorizes your experience when you have confronted a terrorist in service, a perpetrator or even strong threats against you as an American. The past is important to understand the present.

There are three branches of Government executive, legislative and judicial. If the first two aren't working, we have to go to our laws of the land, not the whimisical laws of the administrators who make up the Peace Corps.

I think if the 170,000 were truly team players and don't blame victims we would be able to move forward. Each one of them should be on our side. However, our society always goes in this direction when we are ignorant (not knowing), don't experience and facts are misconstrued. These experiences are "ours" and should respected, not put down.

I don't disrespect your opinion.

As for going further in our concerns, There is always television and interviews with former volunteers.

By Beth Yehaskel (cs68201189-5.austin.rr.com - on Monday, January 12, 2004 - 9:14 pm: Edit Post

I have many thoughts about your comments. First off, let's talk about pairing of volunteers. I think this could be a good idea, and one that provides an easier, more cost-effective solution to part of the security problem. I have questions though, because I don't think it's as easy as just saying we need to do it. Let's talk specifics. Do volunteers live together? They could only live together if they were same-sex volunteers - pairing a mixed couple and having them share housing would only create a hailstorm of issues for both. However, would 2 women be safe together? Or just a bigger target? If paired volunteers live separately, does that really solve the problem? Someone would have to walk home alone, and homes could still get broken into at night. What about volunteers being required to live with a family? This might not always be possible, either. There is, of course, the issue of how effectively paired volunteers could get involved with a community versus a volunteer alone. I got VERY involved with my community, and I think I would never have gotten that far into the culture and community if I had spent lots of time with another American, inevitably speaking English much more and adding to the barriers I already faced. I'd like to hear your thoughts on these issues.

A couple comments you wrote are of concern to me. The first is this: "We should not have negative experiences in Peace Corps." That, to me, is like saying that we should not have negative experiences in life. Perhaps you exaggerated, but do you honestly expect PC to be able to prevent any and every crime? I don't think that's a realistic expectation. It would be great if it were possible, but there are simply too many variables to control. If this is your expectation, I suggest you toss up your hands right now and walk away.

The other comment that sat poorly with me is this one: "I think if the 170,000 were truly team players and don't blame victims we would be able to move forward." This insinuates that people like me are not team players and that we blame victims. I resent both of these assumptions. I am more than willing to play an active role in improving PC and volunteer safety and, as I've already mentioned, improve the handling of situations once incidents occur. Just because I had a positive experience and admire PC does not mean I deserve to be on the opposite side of your chalk line. It means I can't empathize, but I can sympathize and I am compassionate about your situation (again, I don't know any details so I can't really have an opinion about your specific situation). If you make assumptions about RPCV's like me and our feelings and alienate us simply because we didn't suffer the way others did, then you're not even giving us a chance to be on the same side. How can we work together if you do that?

I think you have some great points, and the potential to recruit many people like me to help make a difference. But if you attack me blindly because of the category I fall into, we're not going to get anywhere.

I think we agree on how the goals of PC, generally speaking, should be shaped. Yes, security should be improved. Yes, dialogues should occur with past volunteers to learn from their experiences and things that went right and things that went wrong. Yes, volunteers who suffered injustices should be given apologies and outstanding issues should be resolved. I think reducing a 45% attrition rate to 5% is a little extreme. Let's remember that many of those who leave do so during training due to homesickness, frustration with language, sanitation, food, and all the other stresses of living in a 3rd world country. We lost about 5 people during training - that's what this period is for, and those people didn't know that they didn't want to be there until they got there, even after tons of reading and research. That will always happen. Maybe reducing the rate to 25% or 30% would be a more practical and attainable goal, and allow for those who simply need to go for training in order to learn that they don't want to be there.

On a lighter note, I've got a vicious sarcastic streak and completely appreciate that quality. But in any kind of debate or in-depth discussion it isn't necessarily the best route to take unless you want to piss people off and risk having them stop listening to you.

Television and interviews are great - but again, I'm unsure about what your specific goals are with this. You want an apology - you said that. You also said you don't want PC shut down. Do you want funding cut? Do you want specific people to be fired? Do you want money? I'm curious to see what would happen if you were asked to generate a list of what your specific goals are with all this activity and legwork. I'm not talking about vague goals like "make volunteers safer" or "take care of injured volunteers." I want to know specifics. HOW should PC work pairings into service, practically? How should they handle things, specifically, if a vol is raped or attacked? What specific steps should PC take after a volunteer returns to the states after an incident. You get my drift.

Remember, I'm open to your thoughts and your goals. I think I support most of them. But let's get specific and see what our "wish list" would look like. Let's look at the challenges of our ideas and wants before someone else comes forward and backs us into a corner because we didn't think about a flaw or legitimate concern.

Moving forward...

By Nijma (dsc01-chc-il-209-109-244-81.rasserver.net - on Monday, February 16, 2004 - 12:27 am: Edit Post

Bankass, you are indeed a rabblerouser, a loose cannon, and a troublemaker, and I love you for it. Someone needs to speak for all of us who were swept under the rug by a bureaucracy that has turned its back on volunteers who were telling them about dangerous situations.

It amazes me how quickly some volunteers pick up the Peace Corps line that volunteers get attacked because they are either drinking or acting slutty. This was not my experience and the statistics do not bear this out.

Some of us did risk going against PC advice. The most meaningful Christmas service I ever attended was with a uniformed soldier standing in the middle of a church with a machine gun pointed at the rear entrance. We had received an explicit warning from PC about Islamic extremists, and there were indeed arrests made later. The risk was entirely ours, and I would not trade my memory of that Christmas for anything. For some of us, living alone in a village is also a reasonable risk.

There were other, more unreasonable risks the PC expected us to take, and if we didn't like it we could have a plane ticket home. Reports from volunteers about unsafe housing were ignored. Volunteers who moved out of unsafe housing had their allowances withheld. Forms for reporting incidents were unavailable and passed from hand to hand secretly by volunteers. A volunteer who left her village during an armed standoff between tribal and government groups was chewed out. The next day someone was killed in her village.

The point about corrupt officials, etc., is a troubling one. Every country has someone with "de facto immunity from prosecution." So what do we do about it? If a volunteer just disappears, do we have to look the other way so that the bad guy will be our friend? What if someone with "clout" wants sexual favours? Do we then expect volunteers to provide sexual favors as part of the job description? If those of us with American passports to protect us have so much difficulty with this, what must it be like for the Host Country women? Isn't it our responsibility as Americans and our mandate as the Peace Corps to demonstrate our own values of freedom and justice, instead of falling into a local pattern of corruption and business-as-usual?

I don't think we can weasel around on this. It cannot be left up to the individual country directors to try to maintain a friendly, smiling, good-old-boy relationship with a country or village that is using the volunteers as doormats. The pressure has to come from the DC office.

When it gets right down to it, I really don't believe people in other cultures approve of assaults on volunteers. Every culture will have bullies, possibly bullies in power. Washington should stop pretending all the volunteers are sluts and lushes, and take a strong stand against those who threaten the safety of American volunteers.

By bankass (0-1pool136-23.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Monday, February 16, 2004 - 7:16 am: Edit Post


I like it, you have pointed out the assumptions made by most administrators at Peace Corps.

I think we are cutting through the bunk laid on us and the unreasonable expectations we must endure sometimes as a volunteer. You have said it, dealing with out right criminals who are not for Peace or good relationships. Instead, they are for terror,rape, sexual assaults and threats against us, constantly, while we try to work.

The Peace Corps deserves to honor your service.

Your time is coming. Then we will be able to get back to work.

I hope you can come to Washington in the Spring when the hearings take place. We need to let our reps and senators know about our voices and experiences so that Peace Corps as an institution will understand, we are people, former volunteer and our contribution means something too. Just our presence will send a message.

What do you say?

Thanks for your kind words.

Have good week, Daniel

By daniel (0-1pool136-23.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Monday, February 16, 2004 - 8:12 am: Edit Post


I know I have switched over to this discussion board because Njma made her entrance here.

Beth, I read your articles before and I got the impression you weren't for pairing of volunteers. But, perhaps I was wrong.

I too got very involved in my village. I learned the language,ate with a family (lunch and dinner). Eating with this family defintely was a center point from engaging in the community. It helped in my work too. He was from the Bambara ethnic group in Mali, the the eastern and southern region and his wife was from the Fulani ehtnic group, so I was able to learn French and Bambara from him and Fulani from her.

I had a site mate. She lived approximately 1 kilometer from my house. We did get together once or week or every couple of days, but it didn't hinder my work or growth as a volunteer. She did her work and I did mine.

This is from my experience only. I think pairing will strongly reduce violence against volunteers. Pairing in a village that is. I feel volunteers could have choice to live with a volunteer or not but be trained on how to maintain each other in health and safety through communication in the most effective way possible for that particular situation.

There are policies for everything we do in our society. When we serve in Peace Corps we are a unique type of folks and we really are ambassadors. I think ensuring volunteers are paired near one another is good idea. Does this mean everyone will be safe? No. But this plan or policy has not been tried.

You know Peace Corps puts out unreasonable statistics referring to us "humans", oh, sorry volunteers. An official refuting the claim that pairing of volunteers has no statistics to back up vs a policy warranting it as an overall policy. If the Peace Corps only wants to use logic based on numbers, how about the numbers of volunteers who are already paired together over the last two decades, take the statistics of that population having an incident. Then take the statistics that a volunteer who have served alone and look at the statistics. I could be wrong, but I bet overall its safer to be a paired. That is my best guess and ballpark assumption.

However, Peace Corps should not be able to manipulate the figures to fit their position. Take the same number of volunteers who are paired and put it up against people who are not paired and then I think we will have a fair analysis in terms of numbers.

There are cases that verifiable indicators are not necessarily in the statistics. That's when the human element of "common sense comes into policy making". I think with that many cases of victims of violence and underreporting Peace Corps can't be stubborn because a few want to keep the individuality of the program, over the safety and health of volunteers.

I will have to talk about this some more. right now, I have to get back to work.

I gave you some ansewers there.


By Karol (hq-nat.rockco.com - on Wednesday, February 18, 2004 - 11:20 am: Edit Post

I just read through most of these posting and found it to be an interesting dialogue. To add to it, I thought I would mention that when Peace Corps was originally founded, they did in fact pair volunteers even groups of them together in sites: at least in Columbia where my parents served in the early-mid 60s. My mother had 3 PCV roommates and worked with them on projects and my father also lived with PCV roommates (my parents didn’t marry until years after their service). Somewhere in the 70s PC moved away from group postings and indeed this discussion thread has pointed out the many pros and cons of the decision.

It is ultimately up to the individuals involved... for some people a nearby American would be great, for others an impediment. Which is what makes it hard to make a global rule on the issue. I think it should be situation specific and that the PCVs input should be considered.

Disclosure: I was never PC staff and my country director was none too pleased with me most of the time and what I thought of his rules. He made a lot of rules that he tried to enforce because he believed they would keep us safe. When we first moved into country -- we could not live with another PCV, so we didn't but some of us choose to live with country nationals of the opposite sex (after being told we could not get married) which led to new rules that we had to marry them (negating another old rule that we could not marry country nationals). We could not ever leave our site unless we took vacation days - so we didn't tell PC where we were - ever. The list goes on. There are so many safety issues with how we handled the situation but we felt that PC was treating us like little kids so we acted like kids and skirted the rules.

I think PC should provide more disclosure of safety issues and support the decisions that PCVs make or ask to be made. While I served in Nicaragua, my sister served in Niger and we have discussed the differences between PC Latin American and PC Africa – there are many as the cultures that we were immersed in differed widely. Her PC staff was much more supportive. Niger had a coup and soldiers showed up in her village. She asked for her site to be changed and it was.

I think PC – DC should be more open in providing statistics. A person could just as easily be attacked in many places in the United States but before you move to those places, you can call the local police station (or probably check the internet now) and read the statistics and decide for yourself what the risks are and what is acceptable to you. As far as I am aware, you don’t know that information when you choose a PC assignment or even when you are in-country except through the rumor mill.

Another difference my sister and I found was that in her case: her site was found by the COS’ing PCVs who went to the site and met with the village elders and explained what the requirements of receiving a PCV were. Whereas in my case, my site was picked by PC staff in the capital and I was left to sort out the arrangements when I got to my site. And when we COS’d the recommendations we made to PC about which sites to send new volunteers to were discarded out of hand (the message being, after serving two years in a community, what did we really know about the community’s ability to work with a volunteer or their actual need for one).

By Sara ( on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 7:41 pm: Edit Post

I've been following all of these posts with great interest for some time now. I'm in the middle of getting medical clearance now and will hopefully leaving for "somewhere" in Africa in September. At this point, security and handling of PCV problems is my greatest concern. From other RPCV I've heard again and again- sometimes the country offices don't know what you are up to, and that's how you get things done. We're all adults, and we understand going into this your life is going to be hard and you are often in risky situations. But if you use your head and follow local advice and advice of your country director, usually you'll be ok. Would you all agree with that? I've lived in South Africa, where rape is a major, major problem, and while there I took numerous precautions and tried to be alert at all times. I was fortunate- I was never a victim of any sort of crime. The Americans I traveled with who continued to behave as if they were at the college campus back home were mugged. Obviously, bad things happen no matter how cautious you are but (particularly to Beth) would you say that PCVs are generally safe (considering it is a 3rd world country) at their sites? Also- regarding PC office responses- at this point I haven't been terribly impressed with the DC office- I've dealt with several rude/disinterested people and have written that off as people having a bad day. Are the people in the DC office that bad really, or can I expect more professionalism when I'm dealing with the people that matter and who can truly help me? I'd love to hear anyone's advice and suggestions- I agree also that pairing volunteers might make things safer (and personally, as a young woman I would prefer to be paired with an older or male volunteer) but it should be up to the individual volunteer. When I traveled alone in SA I learned far more about the people- being forced to adapt and deal with people made my experience more meaningful- once again those who glommed onto other Americans/Europeans ended up treating the experience like they were on a spring break trip and gaining nothing at all. Anyway- I'd love advice or responses to my questions.

By RPCV/Ex-APCD ( - on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 1:16 pm: Edit Post

My two cents -

Serve with an attitude of commitment, not entitlement.

Don't serve if finding ways to skirt safety and security, communications and leave policies is a part of your plan. "Rebels without causes" accomplish nothing. You earn ample vacation days with PC, more than you'd have with any other volunteer or salaried position.

Read and understand all of the materials sent to you by PC. If you need clarification, request it, either through the desk and/or at staging.

Participate ACTIVELY in staging and pre-service training. Listen, learn, absorb, discuss disagreements, propose reasonable solutions, etc.

If you hear certain topics repeated (e.g., safety and security and travel issues), it's not because you're being treated as a child or someone without common sense. It's generally based on experience with safety and security incidents and sense that apprently is not so common or that persons tend to disregard - however irrationally - in a foreign country.

Communicate with staff PROACTIVELY, THOUGHTFULLY and MATURELY, even when you feel a particular staff member or fellow PCV has not done so. Identify the staff members with whom you can communicate and associate most effectively. Get to know your CD and don't be afraid to discuss issues with him or her. PCVs who conduct themselves in this manner will not be "treated like children".

DISCUSS, PRIORITIZE and BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION, as opposed to routinely complaining and whining.

Consider all sides and perspectives before prejudging fellow PCVs, counterparts and staff.

If one serves maturely and with commitment, service almost always is a very satisfying albeit challenging experience.

Good luck!

By daniel (0-1pool136-46.nas12.somerville1.ma.us.da.qwest.net - on Saturday, April 17, 2004 - 9:21 am: Edit Post

I did and look what I got out of it. Staffer's who attacked me personally, people like you who think they have power.

The Change has taken place hasn't it big shot?

By Anonymous (gate3-norfolk.nmci.navy.mil - on Friday, August 17, 2007 - 1:26 pm: Edit Post

I cannot believe how many people on these pages can post that the USA is a more dangerous place than PC locations.

I have grown up in a county that now has a population approaching 80K. That is 10 times the number of PCVs. I cannot forsee the 80K of us undergoing the things that the 7K PCVs will over the next year. We might have a couple of murders in a year, and there will be a number of rapes, muggings, etc, but if you scale it down, it sounds much better than Chad or Nigeria. Face it, PCVs are in places that need help and the same places are also more dangerous.

I guess I am saying quit lying about the PC places being safer than here.

Compare it to being a soldier in Iraq. how many more time dangerous is it there?

There have been roughly 130K soldiers there for 4 years, that is 520K people-years. There have been around 3K lives lost, so that is 173 people-years per death.
There have been roughly 7K PCVs out there over the last 4 years, so that is 28K people years. There have been 11 lives lost (0.011K). so that is 2500 people-years per death. So it is 10 times more dangerous.

Combining Baltimore and Prnce George's county statistics (By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service) they have a combined population of 1.47 mil. The murder rate per 100K people is 60 people/year (2006). That would come to 1667 people-years per murder. Of course if you are not dealing crack or a member of MS-13 you should have better numbers.

Either way, now I retract my earlier statement, with the observation-gee I'm glad I don't live there either.

Maybe the PC needs to open up a base of ops in PG county.....

Bottom line is that my son is interested in joining, and his mother and I aren't real excited about it. He wants to 'make a difference' and we are proud to know he does, but also scared of what price comes with that.

Please pray for him.

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