November 26, 2003 - Dayton Daily News: Senate seeks Peace Corps safety plan

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By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 9:06 am: Edit Post

Senate seeks Peace Corps safety plan

Senate seeks Peace Corps safety plan

Senate seeks Peace Corps safety plan

Request follows ‘Daily News’ report on volunteers

By Mei-Ling Hopgood

WASHINGTON | The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has asked the Peace Corps to submit by Jan. 1 a report detailing how the agency handles the safety and security of its volunteers.

The move comes after Ohio's Republican Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine last month requested formal hearings on the safety of volunteers in response to publication of a Dayton Daily News series examining the issue. The newspaper reported that the agency has put many volunteers in danger by sending them to live alone in risky areas without adequate housing, supervision or a job that keeps them busy, and has ignored or downplayed some volunteers' concerns.

House legislators also are expected to address the issue in legislation that aims to double the size of the Peace Corps, a spokesman said. The House has already passed President Bush's plan to raise the number of volunteers to about 14,000 over five years, particularly focusing on Muslim countries, but the Senate has yet to pass the proposal. Security issues raised in the newspaper will be dealt with further when the Senate and the House negotiate the final bill next year, said Sam Stratman, spokesman for the House International Relations Committee, and its chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

"The great body of evidence suggests we're confronted with a very serious problem," Stratman said. "Within the context of the Peace Corps expansion bill, Congress will address the nagging, systemic, difficult issues involving volunteers serving overseas."

A huge spending bill now before Congress also includes new language emphasizing the importance of ensuring volunteers' safety.

During a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations committee staff three weeks ago, Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez said the agency's most recent volunteer survey showed 99 percent of volunteers felt "very safe" or "adequately safe" where they worked and 97 percent of volunteers felt safe where they live, the committee reported in a letter to Ohio's senators. The survey had a 68 percent response rate, according to the Peace Corps.

Vasquez, who announced in October he would be resigning in mid-November but is still serving as director, also told the committee that the agency has an office of Safety and Security with a staff of 80, a 24-hour security officer in every country and a situation room in Washington, D.C., to coordinate evacuations and emergencies.

DeWine and Voinovich said they will continue to press for hearings on the matter.

Sens. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., noted in their letter to the Ohio senators that the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, reported a number of safety problems in 2002. The report says the Peace Corps' implementation of its safety and security framework was "uneven in developing safe and secure housing and work sites, responding to volunteer concerns and planning for emergencies — posing potential risks to volunteers."

In a Nov. 12 letter to the Peace Corps, Lugar asked the agency to submit a report explaining:

• How the Peace Corps' new safety and security office operates and the amount of funds budgeted toward volunteer safety.

• Whether the agency has implemented recommendations made by the GAO to improve safety and security.

• How it conducts its training and programming to minimize risks and include methods of communication and any value to posting volunteers together.

• Results of surveys the agency has conducted to determine the views of volunteers about their safety.

• An overview of the Peace Corps' relationships with other federal agencies, such as the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigations, in prevention and response to assaults on volunteers.

"The world has changed considerably since the Peace Corps was started in 1961," wrote Lugar, chairman of the committee. "Given the current global security situation, are the risks too high for American volunteers to serve in many of the countries where the Peace Corps presently operates? Can sufficient safety and security measures be adopted to adequately protect volunteers and maintain the core mission and value of the Peace Corps?"

Peace Corps spokeswoman Barbara Daly said the agency "looks forward to responding to the questions" from the senators.

[From the Dayton Daily News: 11.26.2003]

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Story Source: Dayton Daily News

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



By Pailes ( - on Thursday, November 27, 2003 - 7:29 am: Edit Post

Dear Senator Lugar and Carl Meacham his staff person,

Yes, it can operate in this global situation, but we need to pair volunteers together for safety, support and more manpower to the given country. As you know, we have been calling for two Volunteers at every site since 1998. Twenty Four Volunteers have perished since. We still have a policy of sending approximately 25 Percent out in service alone at their site.

Your committee should have mandated it legislaively years ago, but we were rebuffed by other staffers on your committee. If you can't do it legislatively, the Peace Corps can't do it internally and the GAO didn't suggest it in their findings then don't expect miracles in volunteer safety. Pairing of volunteers will reduce risk.

More layers of safety staff and coordination with law enforcement will not necessarily increase safety. Another volunteer in your village is you best risk assurance.

Secondly, we need an attorney who is an advocate for volunteers at Peace Corps. Not ten attroneys at Peace Corps who work against volunteers. The fear of reprisal of leaving early or reporting an incident is very real. Look at how Volunteers are treated post peace corps if they were a victim of violence. Volunteers are the program and our experiences are the program, not an administrator in a capital city or in Washington.

Thirdly, Peace Corps needs to hire volunteers who have gone through these situations to be more knowledgable of how to handle these situations in the future. Many return volunteers are not being able to provide their experience to the new generation of Peace Corps. This where new volunteers are disserved in terms of safety and supervision.

Fourthly and as you know not lastly, Volunteers need better acess to project money in their villages without bureaucratic red tape of the administrators, second year volunteers, supervisors and or their counterparts. Volunteers are trained generally how to administer their particular projects. The problem becomes begging for funding from NGO's, USAID, PEACE CORPS and our direct funding from the embassy.

Some volunteers with no project money or clear job assignment make them volunerable to suspicion and disrespected by their government counterparts for not coming through for folks.

Look at the billions that are sent to USAID, World and Trade Development yet volunteers who work on the ground are "short changed". Give easy access to project money for development to happen and safety issues prevented.

Fifthly, the system of wrongfully separating volunteers and the fear of reprisal from the agency is a problem. Volunteers should be able to report an incident without a hassle or fear of being fired as a volunteer. Many volunteers will not report incidents because of being viewed as a "problem volunteer". Peace Corps will argue that they have an early termination report and the separation rate or attrition rate is approximately 30% over the thirty years. The Peace Corps tries to divide medically separated Peace Corps volunteers, Early Terminated Volunteers and Administratively Separated volunteers into three different group. If you add up all the different various points of exit you find in general I would argue 45% percent leave early from service. (no poll or GAO report has been done on a comprehensive basis)

During the 1990's when most of these violent acts took place, Peace Corps used medical services which was not equipped nor trained for such events.

Subsequently, some volunteers have been wrongfully separated through medical services or were admin separated when their concerns of safety were ignored and treated with contempt. Additionally, even if they were treated well by Medical Services for an attack, harassment or rape, a majority of these volunteers are not recieving proper medical care, proper acknowledgement that mistakes could have happened and been made, and are being systematically discriminated against from continuing their service or moving ahead to serve the third goal of Peace Corps. These volunteers have no representation like the military does in Veterans affairs or an attorney working for them. An Attorney at the Federal Level is approximately $300 dollars an hour. No volunteer wants to shell out that kind of money so they can repair their "voluntary service to their own government".

Peace Corps has the ability to "cast off" irresponsibily these victims of violence or wrongfully separated veterans to the Department of Labor's Federal Employee Compensation program.

Thousands of volunteers have been separated early from service are not receiving care for their service related injuries because of a misdiagnosis, wrongful separations through abitrary and capricious actions by peace corps staff, not having adequate and empathetic care for filling out FECA program requirements, awareness that he or she can fill out and apply for the FECA progam (see GAO report of Long Needed Improvements to Peace Corps health care delivery systems) and most important, they don't want to be labeled and have to detail every part of their life to the government including hobbies and present personal relationships. (Becomes an invasion of Privacy issue)

(Streamlining the Reporting job and Training former Volunteers to be liaison employees for the Department of labor) If you do fill out a FECA form for service related injuries it usually becomes a full time job for the Separated Veteran or RPCV. Often requiring boxes filled with three ring binders or mountains of paper to organize the bureacratic paper. Secondly, reaching someone by telephone who has gone through this process does not happen very often. (see Sara Evans story "Volunteer Courage" on Peace Corps on line) The employees of the Peace Corps and the DOL have not had these experiences let alone not serving in Peace Corps. Generally, they are unqualified in this capacity to handle your call in the first place. Most often than not, you are treated rudely, provided wrong information and sometimes can't even get through because so many are calling for their own health care needs for service related cases. For example Senator Lugar: you know how many calls your office gets during a busy time in the Senate. This example provides you will the number of calls and the level of frustration created by the DOL and the Peace Corps regarding claims for service related injuries.

Yes, I am claiming that thousands of volunteers are not provided with health care, constructive development after service or are denied DOL claims because of an inexperienced work force at the DOL and Peace Corps. Most did not serve with Peace Corps and did not have to go through the FECA process themselves. Thirdly, they have not been a victim of violence during service so don't have the proper empathy for these type of issues, claims and incidents. One DOL specialist was requiring a volunteer to find his or her perpetrator in the country of service before his or her service claim would be processed. This is almost impossible, if the volunteer was raped a victim of violence or harassed by a group unscruplous to american intrests. The Burden of Proof becomes yours. Peace Corps and the DOL know this and deny claims in this fashion. Peace Corps and the DOL want to deny claims and health care using these tactics. We did not serve our country to be treated this way.

"Volunteer Courage" the Sara Evans Story

One main problem with this these type of cases is that Peace Corps has no mechanism at Peace Corps which would make Peace Corps responsible to process claims. Think of the thousand of separated volunteers who trained in Arabic, Swahili,Bambara, French and Spanish, are trained educationally and through Peace Corps expereince, but because of one incident they can't serve America again. Is that fair? It does not help American foreign policy that is for sure.

Peace Corps volunteers who have claims themselves or have been through the FECA system could be trained by the DOL to process claims at Peace Corps for them or a combination liaison or a liaison with Congress or created internally at Peace Corps. If Peace Corps says they are already doing it then why is there such a problem.

Senator Lugar Peace Corps is one of the best ideas of American foreign policy in our nation. To provide these type of safe guards would ensure a bright future for our foreign policy. Give us the tools we need and then we can farm.

I walked into the court house in Boston the other day. "Justice is Truth in Action" Louis Brandeis.

Yes, by implementing this type of programming Peace Corps will be a better and safer work environment.

Daniel Pailes

By gvibe ( - on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 2:16 pm: Edit Post

I'm sure this will get a quick response from a disgruntled RPCV and that's fine. I'm going to state my side and then let commenters have a great run at it. For those that make blanket assumptions and accusations about my statements, as has been done previously, do so at the peril of making their own arguments weaker. Criticism is constructive, however, a straw man demonstrates inept ability at dialogue. I'm an RPCV that served in El Salvador, one of the most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere.

In response to these hearings, I completely agree that safety needs to be reassessed in the Peace Corps, I'm glad it's receiving attention. I think safety should always be reassessed.

Let's remember a few things, however.

One of the reasons volunteers are effective is their lack of gobs of USAID funding. PCVs are facilitators, they are not money carriers. This prevents developing communities from seeing PCVs as moneybags, keeping their risk lower. It also insures that the projects that get done are ones that the communities want. Some volunteers that I did see get massive funding did ridiculous projects like building a bridge that no one wanted. Yet that PCV wanted a monument. Those that do not have funding must generate grass-roots level support which is essential to PCV success. Many of us were not development experts going into the experience, our service was a learning process. Thus, we should not get an easy path to money. It must require a strong justification. Those that bring higher qualifications to the field, tend to work on projects that have more infrastructure already in place, and should have an easier time of it. To give access to a largesse of funding to general volunteers without close scrutiny (thus the bureaucracy already in place) is a mistake that would have negative repercussions on PC's reputation as a successful development agency.

PCVs serve in places that are dangerous. It's true. And Peace Corps' crime rate is superior for the kind of work that it does. To expect that no volunteer will be the victim of crime, or accidental injury/death, is ludicrous. How many people refuse to get in their cars after hearing about multiple fatal accidents on their morning radio traffic reports? We accept these risks, it's part of the job. Every applicant who goes through this process knows about that risk. Those that have a hard time with it, stay home, it's why not everyone should be in the Peace Corps. Insulating the agency with rubber walls won't protect volunteers, just increase bureaucracy.

Finally, the forced pairing up of volunteers is a mistake. I chose to be out in an isolated part of the country, I asked for it. No electricity, no water. I slept better there than anywhere else in the world. To have put a volunteer in my site would have attracted unwanted attention, increasing the risk of crime enacted on both of us, would have made integrating into the community more difficult, and would have made the initially scant work more sparse. There were volunteers that I will be friends with the rest of my life. There are those that I couldn't stand to be in the same room with. What if one of those was placed with you at your site? Those volunteers that want pairings should be given the opportunity. Those that do not, should not have it forced on them.

I agree that victims should have a more fluid time post Peace Corps. These are the folks that have been hurt by their experience and should be the most taken care of. It is the reflection of a society and an agency as to how it treats it's most vulnerable members. This is something that should be addressed. I am also wary of those that choose to balk the system, those RPCVs who wanted free rides off their per diems every chance they got, bilking Uncle Sam out of as much money as possible. A system should be put in place to better accomodate victims, but it should receive close oversight so that it is not abused.

My 2 Centavos,


By ( - on Friday, November 28, 2003 - 7:52 pm: Edit Post


I understand the points on the funding of volunteers. I think it should be easier for the ones that want it. I know you will disagree. But, if you are doing nothing because your village commarades want cement, teaching materials, and other small things, it is a bit of a problem. At times, not all times, can make a volunteer vulnerable. I understand your belief in self sufficiency for people you work with, but that can be taken too far to the point where a volunteer never gets funding during his or her service. I think you should be able to have choose in obtaining spaf funding up to 2,500. Which is not alot of money.

The comparison again to the US I believe isn't an appropriate arguement. When a volunteer is targeted he or she is targeted by a perpetrator because he or she is a Peace Corps person, a woman, a westerner, etc... That is my belief.

Pairing volunteers: I stand firm on that because of the numbers of victims. I understand it will not be what all people want. It is a different world.

I appreciate your comments at the bottom.

I am glad you had a good experience.

By Nijma ( - on Monday, December 08, 2003 - 1:05 pm: Edit Post


I agree with you about funding. The Peace Corps objective is no longer development (as it was during Bankass' service), it is cultural. While I was very agressive in trying to get funding in my village, many of the volunteers I served with did not want to be viewed as the Western Santa Claus with deep pockets. It did not help when one of the program directors went into at least twelve villages and told the volunteers' supervisors that their volunteer could get them ten thousand dollars just for the asking. This was at a time when few, if any, projects were being funded and it created an extremely awkward situation for the volunteers. I suspect the debate on this will contine for some time.

I agree with you about pairing. The volunteer should ideally bond with nationals and not with other volunteers. This means being able to identify the local cultural patterns that promote security and being able to tap into them, not easy in a strange culture where you are learning the language. At the same time, total isolation can be dangerous. I once disappeared for several days due to severe illness. My supervisor did not have any way to contact me and did not report my absence from work to the Peace Corps office. She thought she was protecting me, as she had herself experienced many communication difficulties with the office.

A model for a solution is the evacuation drills used in Jordan. Volunteers from nearby villages meet at the house of a volunteer in a larger town easily accessible by bus. The office provides funding for a light lunch.

Out of this informal group came a plan for increasing taxi safety for volunteers in the town. The town has two taxi companies. The volunteers patronize one taxi service exclusively, the implication being that if volunteers ever have a safety problem with this service, the company could lose the business of all the volunteers. This very a practical, and as far as I know, successful strategy. It could never have been dreamed up by Peace Corps officials living in the diplomatic section of Amman, much less in Washington.

I learned about it only because I happened to talk to a volunteer from that village. There have been many other successful strategies developed by volunteers that need to be shared. This only happpens when there is frequent informal communication between many volunteers. Volunteers in one country have even developed an in-country web site. It would be interesting to know the impact of this on safety and security.

As far as categorizating those who experience negative incidents as vulnerable victims who are looking for a free ride: I find this deeply offensive. Think of your own community in the U.S. Aren't there certain individuals regarded as possibly dangerous? People you warn your children to avoid? People the police cannot take any action against because they haven't committed any known crime yet? What if a foreign exchange student was placed with this individual? We do not condone sexual violence, and I really don't believe other cultures do either.

We can not just shrug and say, "Well, there are risks." Do you really think we are naive about the risks when we volunteer? Does volunteering for the Peace Corps mean you are "asking for it?" No wonder an internet search for "Peace Corps" turns up so many hits for alternatives to Peace Corps service. Urban legend is full of safety anecdotes about volunteers. People who want to volunteer are now turning to faith-based and other agencies that have learned how to minimize risk.

This is free advice. You can decide if it was worth what you paid for it, but it should be worth at least a bariza.


By gvibe ( - on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 - 1:01 pm: Edit Post


Well-written, I like the safety ideas and think PC worldwide should have a stronger network of security best practices.

I disagree with the other points. The reason that Peace Corps alternatives come up on a search engine is not because of the sites' popularity, but actually because of Peace Corps' popularity. The Peace Corps Alternatives are actually paid sponsors that subsidize their right to be at the top or prominently displayed. If you look further down where the actual search engine list is, you'll notice that the majority of links have to do with Peace Corps, or RPCVs. I checked this on Google, Yahoo, Lycos, and MSN. If there's one that I'm missing then please let me know.

People are not turning to faith based organizations in place of Peace Corps. The number of volunteers in Peace Corps are up to a 14 year high, I believe at over 7500 volunteers in the field.

Second, I'm not categorizing the victims as freeloaders. I stated that any system should have oversight put in place, as is necessary. Nothing tarnishes an agency like when a small percentage is able to take advantage of a situation, so prevention is key. Did you know of any volunteers that might balk the system were they given the opportunity? I don't refer to the majority but a small percentage. That's what I'm addressing. Maybe oversight is implicit, but don;t assume so.

Daniel, I still disagree about required pairing of volunteers, making it available would be useful, however.


By Nijma ( - on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 6:36 pm: Edit Post

The existence of Peace Corps "Alternatives" does not mean Peace Corps is popular, it means Peace Corps is a monopoly whose edges are being chipped away by its own high-handed policies.

I know someone who is currently pursuing a program through the United Methodist Church, and a member of the Kennedy clan just returned from a one year English-teaching assignment in Africa through a Roman Catholic agency. You don't know until you make personal inquiries. Try Dave's Internet Cafe, the website for teaching English as a second language. Agencies in China were placing English teachers in villages. In many cases you can teach without a M.A. if you have a TEFL certification, which I got in one semester. Dave's site also includes testimonials from teachers by country and agency about contract, workload, late pay, passport confiscations, names of intractable staff members, etc.

The idea of a volunteer filing a claim with the Department of Labor for service related conditions does not bother me in the least, especially considering what I see my veteran neighbors get for even non-service related conditions. It does miss the main point, which is putting the responsibility for the expense back on the doorsteps of the Peace Corps to motivate them to behave more responsibly. If anyone is a "freeloader", it is the United States Peace Corps.

It completely blows me away that Gaddi Vasquez is able to waltz into the Senate Foreign Relations committee waving a survey that says 99% of volunteers say they feel safe. How does he get numbers like that? If you ask my neighbors (who by the way vote regularly)if they feel safe, they will tell you about the broken sidewalk, the trucks making deliveries in the alleys, the bar down the street, and the wierd neighbor they had to call the police on at two in the morning. But if you ask the volunteers, whose E-mail is probably monitored, who have no one to protect their rights, and who depend on the local PC office for access to medical care, possible evacuation, and an eventual plane ticket home, they are quieter than a mouse in a boa constrictor's cage.

Out of my group, fifty per cent left, one way or another, before the first year. The same for the group before me and the group after me. We counted them by name as they left. Some left because of safety concerns. No one tried to resolve the problems, but instead took an adversary role with the volunteer and with their village. If a volunteer expressed concerns about their site, the office staff could cite airline departure times by memory, complete the required paperwork, and have them on a plane within three days. The Peace Corps ideal of communication between cultures did not even receive lip service. I doubt very much whether the fifty percent of the volunteers who were quickly hustled out of the country had time to participate in any safety surveys.

So when the Peace Corps director goes into battle armed with a safety survey, that survey does not include the 50% who left and the 32% who did not respond. The 99% now looks more like 20%.

The volunteer who leaves early does not receive the promised $7000 or so readjustment allowance. I got something like $700, which doesn't even cover one month's rent in the housing market I returned to. For some volunteers with wealthy families this wasn't as much of a hardship. My people are retired and this catastrophe occurred just as they received the medical bills for several days in a cardiac intensive care unit.

Fortunately my grandfather's farm had just been sold and my mother offered her share of the inheritance for my return. I doubt very much that I am eligible for any DOL benefits, but I would certainly take it if I could figure out how to file the triplicates. It certainly looks to me like the Peace Corps has "freeloaded" on my family for the sake of those 99% safety surveys. I am not the first and I won't be the last.

The Peace Corps should pay its own way instead of bleeding the families of the volunteers. These expenses do not belong in the Department of Labor, but at Peace Corps. PC will not do any more than pay lip service to safety until they are given financial incentives to do otherwise.

More importantly, we are missing the mission of the Peace Corps, which is understanding between cultures. I happened to serve in a Moslem country. The fifty percent of volunteers who leave before the first year represent a missed opportunity to find out what went wrong in our communication with this culture, a question I fear we will continue to ask ourselves as a nation for many years to come.

By ( - on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 11:19 pm: Edit Post


I appreciate your concerns about FECA and the DOL's role at Peace Corps.

I also appreciate your concerns about attrition rates. In my service, they were as high as fifty percent too.

By Gvibe ( - on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 - 3:01 am: Edit Post

They do have a neat little way of rigging the attrition rates, don't they? What are the real numbers for how many volunteers worldwide finish their two and a half years? This is a question I would like a solid answer for. I've heard 80%, but I've also heard they exclude some folks. I don't know the answer to that one. Peace Corps does need to come clean with it's numbers, transparency is key.

Nijma, it sounds like you had some bunk in country staff. That's the point where PC is weakest, in accountability of poor staff. We had excellent in country admin. 21 out of 25 Vols stayed for the entire time, 12 of us extended, 6 for more than a year. The group before us lost half their members. I've heard that Mauritania has the highest number of volunteers leaving before their 2 years and extending for a third one, you either love it or you hate it.

Regarding Peace Corps popularity, the number of volunteers has hit a 28 year high, it's more popular now than it ever has been. Despite DDN, Jane, Peace Corps alternatives, the interest in PC has increased.

By ( - on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 - 10:30 am: Edit Post

3:01am you must really care about Peace Corps.
Gvibe, I appreciate you viligance and arguements in favor of Peace Corps. Do you work at Peace Corps now?

I know we disagree on many issues in reagards to our experiences. However, I know you care about volunteers in general, I can tell by the way you present your points. It is christmas so I am going to lay off the bickering for today. No matter how bad my present situation with Peace Corps is today, I think we both are very lucky to have seen other another country and their lifestyle while folks around the world live in very difficult situations.

Those articles have come out because Peace Corps refuses to change policy and listen. The administration both Democratic appointees and Republican appointees defend the system of Peace Corps. Its out dated. The Volunteer doesn't have a lawyer working for them or an Ombudsman, the FECA is broke for some of us, there are no goals at the agency for attrition rates to be lowered, the is no system in place to correct the past with respect to victims of violence, rape, and threats and beatings. The only way is to get Congress to listen because Peace Corps refuses to change internally. I am sorry those articles offend you or cast the program in a light you don't like.

In my case, the Peace Corps has played games with my career and my family and extended family. They messed with the wrong guy. If the Peace Corps is so concerned with safety, they would settle our dispute and many others. They won't acknowledge it. The Peace in my case is coming. The Peace Corps will be in court again.
I will not stop until their is an equitable solution.

By Nijma ( - on Thursday, January 01, 2004 - 2:17 pm: Edit Post

The number of volunteers serving does not reflect "popularity", it represents Congressional funding, among other things. The fact that the PC director has to go looking for volunteers in two-year community colleges in spite of the weak economy does not inspire me with awe. I would be more interested in the number of applications and the quality of the applicants. I understand PC is also having trouble staffing local offices in the US.

Transparency and accountability are certainly key. I am always amazed to talk to volunteers who say they served in countries with low attrition rates because my own experience was so different. Can poor staff really make or break a program?

The difference between our training staff and the permanent staff was night and day. During training we were asked for anonymous feedback weekly, and volunteers' ideas were incorporated into the training program. This is certainly the American business model of continuous improvement, which includes monitoring, continued evaluation and assessment, improvisation, and correcting past mistakes.

The country staff did not appear to be accountable to anyone except to special interests within the country. There were three country directors in four years. A medical officer who had been instrumental in advocating for volunteer safety left when her contract expired. A married staff member who was being investigated for sexual improprieties in connection with three different female volunteers was instrumental in derailing safety concerns.

Still, it would be hard for me to identify who were the good guys and who were the bad guys among the staff, and probably harder still for someone in Washington. Having been a bureaucrat myself, I know that a bureaucrat's first instinct is self-preservation, and the staffer's only defense against having to act improperly is by citing policy. The system needs to be staff-proof. So we are back to transparency and accountability. And those PC policy disks which are locked up in someone's office instead of being accessible online or in notebook form in the workplace as they are in public and private institutions in the US.

What about nationality of staffers? About half of our staff was host country nationals and half was "American". Of those "Americans" only one spoke English with an American accent, the rest had dual passports (except for the medical officers who were expats from other countries). Some of the volunteers were particularly uncomfortable with the British-American staffers as the Brits and Americans have historically been very competitive with each other in Moslem countries while maintaining a public stance of cooperation. I don't know if Oxfam takes anyone with an American passport, but I know it is nearly impossible for an American to get hired by other British cultural agencies, although they do occasionally hire HCN's as English instructors. I can't quite get a handle on the question of naturalized citizens: who is an American, what is our national interest, the importance of "American-ness" of the in-country PC office culture.

I don't think the issue of staff competence is as important as accountability. Staff become more competent with clear expectations and transparent policies. In a way, this is a part of the Peace Corps mission--to let HTN's see American office practices at work. PC in Washington has to set the tone for this; they have not done so, and the institutions that oversee them have not done so. Congress needs to step in, and I believe they will if returned volunteers can make themselves heard.

By Daniel ( - on Friday, January 02, 2004 - 6:24 am: Edit Post

Yea, but the internal Peace Corps staff in Washington usually make the policy.

However, I appreciate your comments. Gotta go lump furniture (12,000 Pounds today) on my back because the Peace Corps each day violates my civil rights to work with my education.


By Nijma ( - on Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - 3:59 pm: Edit Post

And the policy is secret, so we're back to oversight.

When I worked with the federal food stamp program, there was both state and federal oversight. States could and did lose literally millions of dollars for not administering the program correctly. State inspection teams periodicly descended on a local office, poured over records, and assigned a ranking to the office. Administrators who improved their office or group ranking got trophies in front of all the other adminstrators. How do other agencies oversee their operations, and why doesn't Peace Corps seem to be able to do so without outside interventiion?

It seems that Moslem countries such as Mauritania, Jordan, and Morocco, and probably others, have severe attrition problems. I have heard that Morocco at one time had very low attrition. No one has bothered to survey the volunteers from these countries who voted with their feet, and yet it is the Moslem countries that are targeted for a doubling of the number of volunteers. How can we do this, and I think we must, when we don't know what is going wrong with the programs in these countries. We don't have programs, we just have a lot of plane tickets.

Al Queda tells people, and many Moslems believe it, that Western culture is morally depraved and does not treat women with respect. We try to tell them we have rule of law, and that our law protects women. Yet, I have heard that although the PC program in my host country has made some improvements, volunteers who report problems are still not being reassigned. A volunteer who experiences harrassment or is expected to perform sexual favors has three choices: keep your mouth shut, leave, or get fired. Do not pass go, do not collect readjustment allowance. Host country nationals can listen to Western rhetoric about individual rights, but what opinion will they form when they witness the Peace Corps in action?

By daniel ( - on Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - 9:33 pm: Edit Post

Good Points. Daniel

By Alexandra Clique ( - on Sunday, October 15, 2006 - 5:56 pm: Edit Post

As a former member of the united states peace corps, do you feel your duty was worthwhile? I am currently studying the peace corps positive and negitive aspects. Were you well trained? Do you feel you were ready to face the challenges that you came against? Did you feel you were adequately funded?

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