March 25, 2004 - Lowell Sun: Walter Poirier tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: March 25, 2004: What other News Agencies say about the Peace Corps Safety and Security Hearings: March 25, 2004 - Lowell Sun: Walter Poirier tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

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Walter Poirier tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

Walter Poirier tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

Walter Poirier tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

Father of Lowell man tells Congress change needed at Peace Corps

By IAN BISHOP, Sun Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON The FBI and the Bay State's congressional delegation have tried in vain to find Sheila Poirier's missing son, Walter. Yet the Lowell mother hasn't received so much as an apology from the Peace Corps for losing track of Walter J. Poirier during his volunteer stint in Bolivia in early 2001.

But Sheila Poirier said an apology is not her top priority right now. "Our main goal is to find Walter," she said moments before her husband, Walter R. Poirier, testified before Congress yesterday.

"We're looking for one thing, and that's our son," she added.

Walter J. Poirier, a Lowell High alumnus and 2000 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, was 23 when he was last heard from in Bolivia in February 2001.

No one at the Peace Corps realized he was missing until Sheila Poirier became alarmed after not hearing from her son for over a month. Searches through the Zongo Valley, the remote area Walter worked in, produced nothing.

To no avail, Sheila Poirier and her sister flew to Bolivia that summer to add two extra set of eyes to the search. Her son remains missing without a trace.

A report by the General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, placed a hefty amount of the blame for Walter J. Poirier's disappearance at the feet of the Peace Corps for failing to keep close contact with him.

"Everything was way too late," Walter R. Poirier, Leominster's chief assessor, said before giving testimony.

The Poiriers flew to Washington this week at the request of the House International Relations Committee, their experience a cautionary tale for lawmakers looking to heighten volunteer safety in an increasingly violent world. The Poiriers seized the opportunity as a chance to find their son.

"Twice, we have asked the Peace Corps to hire a private investigator to really concentrate on our son's case, and twice we have been rebuffed," Walter R. Poirier said in prepared testimony.

The Poiriers are urging that a full-time Spanish-speaking investigator with Bolivian ties be assigned to track down their son.

In recounting his family's tragic experience to lawmakers, Poirier painted the Peace Corps as a sloppy, uncaring agency. Requests for information were stonewalled, Poirier told the lawmakers.

A card from the Peace Corps arrived at the Poiriers' Raynor Street home, inviting them to share their volunteer's experience with others.

"In other words, we were left on a mailing list despite all we had been through," he said.

Poirier urged Congress to take an active role in reshaping the mind-set of the Peace Corps.

"If change is mandated through legislation, perhaps no other parent will have to appear before this body after losing a precious son or daughter due to lack of proper management security protocols and resistant attitudes toward change," he said.

Poirier's testimony was supported by testimony from the editor of the Dayton Daily News, an Ohio newspaper that chronicled nearly 40 years of Peace Corps failings.

"Major findings from our investigation show that the Peace Corps puts volunteers in danger by sending them alone to some of the most dangerous corners of the world," said the editor, Jeff Bruce. "Violence against volunteers is widespread."

Lawmakers are moving toward greater congressional oversight of the Peace Corps. The House International Relations Committee is expected later this month to review a bill that strengthens the Peace Corps' Inspector General's office and creates a Peace Corps Office of Safety and Security.

The Peace Corps' inspector general, Charles Smith, invited the possibility of a security office.

"Volunteer safety and security needs careful and continuing review," Smith said.

Increased security for volunteers is welcomed by the Poiriers, though it's too late to ease their pain.

"We have been through a gamut of emotions, which no family should have to endure," Walter R. Poirier said.

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Story Source: Lowell Sun

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



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