March 25, 2004 - Fitchburg Sentinel: Peace Corps' security faulted

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 - Fitchburg Sentinel: Peace Corps' security faulted

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 10:24 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps' security faulted

Peace Corps' security faulted

Peace Corps' security faulted

Peace Corps' security faulted

By Ian Bishop, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The FBI and the Bay State's congressional delegation have tried in vain to find the missing son of Leominster Chief Assessor Walter R. Poirier.

Yet Walter R. Poirier and his wife haven't received so much as an apology from the Peace Corps for losing track of their son, Walter J. Poirier, during his volunteer stint in Bolivia in early 2001.

"That's all circumspect. Our main goal is to find Walter," said the missing man's mother, Sheila Poirier, moments before her husband, Walter R. Poirier, testified before Congress on Wednesday.

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

No one at the Peace Corps realized he was missing until Sheila Poirier became alarmed after not hearing from her son in more than a month. Searches through the Zongo Valley, the remote area Walter Poirier 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 non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, placed a hefty amount of the blame in Walter J. Poirier's disappearance at the feet of the agency for failing to keep close contact with him.

"Everything was way too late," said his father Walter R. Poirier, prior to his testimony.

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

In recounting his family's tragic experience to lawmakers, Walter R. Poirier painted the Peace Corps as a sloppy, uncaring agency.

Requests for information were stonewalled, he told the lawmakers. After their son had disappeared, 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 in active role in reshaping the mindset of the Peace Corps.

"If change is mandated through legislation, perhaps no their 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 bolstered by testimony from the editor of the Dayton Daily News, an Ohio newspaper that has 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," the editor, Jeff Bruce, said. "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: Fitchburg Sentinel

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



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