December 20, 1999: Headlines: Y2K: Computers: Wired Magazine: How the Peace Corps is responsing to Y2K

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How the Peace Corps is responsing to Y2K

How the Peace Corps is responsing to Y2K

A Boring New Year for Volunteers

by Katie Dean | Also by this reporter Page 1 of 2 next »

03:00 AM Dec. 20, 1999 PT

American organizations with volunteers abroad are approaching Y2K with trepidation, implementing policies to keep their workers safe.
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"We owe it to our volunteers to be as prepared as one can be," said Robin Teater, the executive director of World Teach, which has 50 volunteers in Ecuador and nine in China. "No one is sure what will happen. It's better to err on the side of caution."

Volunteer organizations are heeding recent State Department warnings that Americans abroad should plan for possible disruptions in transportation and power services. The department's Web site posts Y2K status reports on each country.

Instead of cavorting on the beach with a bottle of Dom Perignon, World Teach volunteers in Ecuador will toast the New Year at home with their host families. They've been directed to check in with their field coordinators by 2 January and may be issued cell phones to use should communications lines go down.

In China, World Teach volunteers will remain in their housing compound for the weekend. In both countries, volunteers are advised to have extra food and cash on hand.

World Teach programs in Costa Rica and Namibia, which usually begin in December, have been delayed until January in an effort to avoid any Y2K complications.

The Peace Corps, a much larger organization, is going to great lengths to keep track of its volunteers. With over 7,000 volunteers in 78 countries, accounting for each one will be a significant task, one the organization has been working on for over a year.

Volunteers who remain in-country must convene in designated cities for several days, where extra food, water, and gas are stockpiled in case of an emergency.

In some African countries, volunteers who live in remote villages with no electricity or running water will remain at their posts. "They are better off in places with few resources than in the capital cities, where problems are more likely because there are more systems, more people, and more computers," said Brendan Daly, a Peace Corps spokesman.

Peace Corps volunteers in Russia will be equipped with emergency kits that include sleeping bags, food, a flashlight, first-aid kit, and extra clothes. Such kits may be necessary simply because of the weather in Russia: If heating systems break down, workers may need to insulate themselves from the cold.

Volunteers who plan to leave their assigned countries must provide detailed travel itineraries and check in with their supervisors after the New Year to ascertain that conditions are safe for their return.

Country directors will be equipped with satellite phones to keep them in touch with every country as well as the home base in Washington.

Daly stressed that the organization does not expect anything to happen, but, he said, "We're trying to be as prepared as we can, and I think that's reassuring to the volunteers."

Daly said the Peace Corps Web site will also provide updates on the state of affairs in each country, so volunteers can check the site to see if it is safe to return.

Global Volunteers, an organization that sends groups to foreign countries to perform a two- or three-week service project, has no plans for the rollover.

"We're not foreseeing any big calamities," said Sarah Barker, a media coordinator for the organization.

Two projects -- one in Indonesia, and one in Costa Rica -- will span the New Year.

Barker said none of the volunteers have expressed any concern about Y2K. "If they were concerned," she said, "they would not have signed up for that particular program." If the state department had banned travel over the New Year, the organization would have suspended its programs, as they did during the unrest in Indonesia during September.

"Perhaps our volunteers are ideally suited for travel during this time," Barker said. They are used to the unpredictability of third world countries, drinking bottled water, and no banks. "They are not looking for a four-star hotel."

World Teach's director agreed that volunteers were probably better-prepared for emergencies than most people.

"They have mini Y2Ks all the time," Teater said.

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Wired Magazine

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