|By Haley (126.96.36.199) on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 2:06 pm: Edit Post|
Dear Future Peace Corps Applicants...
Beware that your training process is in fact a 3 month interview process and if somebody on staff doesn't like you (ie a spanish teacher), no matter how great you're doing in your community, you could potentially be dropped back in the US unexpectedly and left with nothing. I gave up my whole life to volunteer for 2 years, spent all my money in the process, sold my car, quit my job with excellent health benefits, and this is what happened... as per a letter I sent to headquarters after I was unfairly separated and quickly evacuated from the country...
I am writing because I feel I was administratively separated from Peace Corps Guatemala for unfair reasons and was not given specific explanations for what exactly I did wrong. Their argument was that I exerted negativity, lack of flexibility, and reacted strongly to feedback. The only particular instance they would elaborate on was an instance that I feel was created by lack of communication between the staff and our community based training group.
I will start by describing this situation because I feel it is a good example of how everything transpired. Our group had just come back from 9 days of field based training where we had visited the sites of 2 volunteers that had been in site for a year. At the end of the trip I was feeling very accomplished and excited, as I now had a better idea of how things in my site would be, and how to get started creating work for myself. It was a very challenging experience because the work load was heavy and the volunteers always had surprises lurking around every corner, but I feel that I was very flexible and that I didn't voice my opinions and frustrations any more than the rest of the group did.
The trouble started the Monday we returned home. We had scheduled an HIV/AIDS workshop with a group of health promoters for that Wednesday, following our technical trainer's schedule of goals. We were informed that we were to receive the help of an experienced volunteer that night so we could start preparing. She arrived about a half hour late, sat down at the table with 3 of us (the other in our group was at the hospital having tests done, as she had been really sick since arriving in the country) and started helping us map out an agenda for the workshop. We expressed concern to her that the other person in our group was missing, and that we didn't want to do everything without her, but she was saying things like she was sent because our group hadn't been working together well, and the words “you could be sent home” were spoken but I can't recall in exactly what context. This was the first we had heard of any problems as we had been working great together, had established strong friendships within our group, and had been accomplishing everything that was expected of us on schedule. We felt like we were being attacked without warrant, and I was the one that spoke up in what I thought was a fairly calm manner and simply expressed that we didn't know where she was coming from, and if she wanted us to work together it was going to be hard to do that while we were missing one of the group. We had chosen all of the components of the workshop, but didn't want to decide who was responsible for what without our fourth group member, and were planning to reconvene when she returned from the hospital. She got defensive and called our technical trainer down to talk with us.
The next day me and the 2 other girls went into our tech trainers office to explain a little bit about where we were coming from, and why we reacted to the volunteer the way we did. He ended up telling us that he did think our group had all of these problems, and that we needed to step it up or that we were in danger of being sent home. It was apparent that he had talked to her about all of our problems, but hadn't yet talked to us about them, so she was just the middle man in the whole situation. I felt awful about how we had treated her and began crying at the Peace Corps office. Marissa was there, so I immediately apologized to her, we hugged, and continued working together on the project.
After that, we were told almost every day for about 2 weeks, sometimes in a group and sometimes individually, by our Spanish teacher and technical trainer that we weren't positive enough and that we needed to change. The most intense of these meetings was when we were called into the office to talk to the training director and country director individually. During my meeting they kept saying things like “there are a lot of red flags that have been raised on you” but when asked to elaborate they wouldn't. Also, the country director said something to the effect of “we just want to make sure you're not here for a paid holiday” which was extremely offensive after I had fought so hard through the year-long application process, had appealed a medical rejection and won, had given up my whole life in the States, was excited about the program and the work, and done what I felt was a good job in training so far. She also said towards the end of the meeting that even if I didn't think I was in the wrong, that I needed to accept it and try to change.
One of the times that our new Spanish teacher (all teachers had just rotated a few days before we left for FBT) Sandra had the negativity discussion with us, she brought up how our first meeting with her went before field based training. We were sad to lose our other Spanish teacher who we had formed a strong bond with, and her method of teaching was a lot different than his, so it was a tough day for everyone. At the end of that first day she said she could feel that things didn't go well, and asked for input on what we could do to improve class. I told her that I preferred more of a formal lesson, with discussion, questions and answers afterward, as opposed to her having us try to figure the lesson out for ourselves. Another girl in my group also said that she was a visual learner like myself, and asked that more be written during the lesson. We gave her the input she requested in a very calm and tactful way, but she brought that up as an instance in which we were negative. I'm wondering, after a somewhat difficult first day, if she had a problem with us from then on, even though from my point of view class and our relationship with her dramatically improved.
Also over that couple of weeks, we heard from our friends in other community based training groups that our technical trainer was sitting down with other groups asking them for gossip, and each person had to say something around the table. He was also telling people not to associate themselves with our group using such analogies as “if you put a live fish in a bucket of dead fish, the live fish will die too.” Additionally he was telling groups that they were his favorites, then telling other groups that they were his favorites, and telling people that he “likes to create competition and turn people against each other.” For an organization that encourages professionalism to the fullest extent, it didn't seem like anything at that point was being handled professionally.
So, when we finally sat down with our technical trainer to discuss solutions to our problems, the only solutions discussed was that we needed to be looking for other things to do outside of what was required by his training calendar. We expressed to him that we did not know about these hidden expectations, but now that we knew that more was expected of us, we were going to get right on it and we did, scheduling multiple health talks in the community back to back. Just as I thought things were looking up, I received a text message from the training director telling me that he had the country director wanted me to come to the office for another meeting that morning, instead of going to an important meeting we had with a social worker about how she was going to continue her health promoter program without us when we left for our sites. I had been working hard on the solutions we discussed, and was convinced that there was no way they could send me home based on all of these rumors, but when the country director walked in with the administrative separation form in her hand it was clear that I was wrong.
Our group however, was not the only one being picked on. For example, my friend ______ was called into a meeting to have her motives for being there questioned after our field based training trip as well. During the trip she contracted a bacterial infection and amoebas, but was still giving it her all despite the fact that she felt awful. She never stayed in bed or anything and always did her part in the different health talks we did throughout the week. My friend _____ was also going through a similar battle having her motives questioned, after having been hospitalized for amoebas, which then turned into some other tropical disease. She had been on the phone with the nurses almost every day for about a month discussing her awful sickness which included explosive diarrhea, only to receive a phone call from them later telling her that they and other people had noticed that she had lost a lot of weight, and implied that she might be suffering from an eating disorder. The list goes on, but the point is that it really felt like they were not supportive at all of the fact that we had just left everything we knew and loved to come help a country in need.
A few conversations I had with people before I left really got to me also. One was my conversation with my first Spanish teacher. He said he was really sorry, that he thought it was all based on rumors, and that my friendship meant a lot to him and everything. Another was a text message I received from ___, somebody who was with us during our whole field based training trip. Somehow she had already heard about what was happening to me, and I forget her exact words but she said something like “I'm really sorry about what has happened to you. If you feel you were wrongly separated you need to follow through and seek legal counsel,” which I was already planning on doing.
The thing that gets me the most is that whoever was giving all of this negative feedback on our group, but obviously mostly me, failed to overlook the fact that I had a great relationship with my host family, had established friendships in the community, and was participating in an exercise group of diabetic women that all loved me. I felt, even if my program work was suffering, which I didn't feel it was, then at least I was doing an excellent job at meeting 2 of the 3 goals of Peace Corps. I loved being there, I loved all of my fellow trainees, I loved the work of the program, I loved advancing my Spanish skills. I loved everything about it and was fully equipped to begin a project in my own site, and now there is a site that will not be getting a volunteer because I was sent home.
I would also like to tell you the sequence of events leading up to my departure, as I feel that it was an awful process. I showed up to the office at 9am Monday morning, was told I was being separated by 9:30am, and was given a driver to take me back to my host family's house to get my bank account information so I could go close my bank account. I walked through the front door of my house and my host mom and her sister were standing there crying because somebody had already called them to let them know that I would be leaving. I was crying too and asked them what the person had said for a reason, and whoever it was told them that it was something I did in Quetzaltenango on field based training, which I don't know what that could have possibly have been and had never mentioned to me. It sounds almost as if they had lied to my host family. So I went to the bank and stood in line for 2 hours to close my account (by this time it must have been about 1pm) then went back to the office to fill out paperwork and go through all of the logistics. Craig the training director was saying that they were trying to have me fly out that day, but it didn't look like it was possible, so the administrative lady told me that a driver would be arriving at 3am to take me to the airport early the next morning. I got out of the office by 2:30 or 3pm without so much as a goodbye or best wishes from the country director and training director, ran to run some errands in Antigua and have an impromptu going away party with about 12 of my closest training friends, then got back to my host family's house to have my last meal with them and give them some going away presents I had picked up for them in Antigua. My host mom then took me around 8pm to go say bye to all her family members in the area. I was crying, she was crying, her other family members were crying, and I couldn't even say bye to everyone because some people weren't around that night. What kills me the most is that I didn't get to say bye to my 6 year old host brother Rodrigo, who played computer games with me almost every night. Everyone said to come visit, and that their house is my house, and that I was always welcome back. When I got back to the house said they were going to sleep, but they wanted me to wake them up when I was leaving. So finally about 10pm I had a chance to start packing. My 2 great girlfriends in my training town had gotten permission from the security director to come to the airport with me at 3am to see me off, and they came over to hang out with me while I was packing. I never even had a chance to sleep that night. I woke the family up at 3am to say my final goodbyes, all crying again. As I was going to get in the car my host mom was kissing my cheeks and telling me I was a good person, which meant the world to me after what I had been through in the previous weeks.
So I'm back now still trying to figure out exactly what happened, feeling like I've been robbed of an excellent opportunity based on a bunch of rumors and gossip. Nobody that gives up their life to go volunteer should have to go through what I went through and what lots of other volunteers in my training group are going through, so for the sake of future trainees I hope something can be done about all of this.
Thank you for your time,
So I'm home now, missing Guatemala like no other- my host family, friends in the community that I didn't get to say goodbye to, the awesome fellow trainees I met along the way, the great opportunity I had to make a difference... and I have nothing (except for the people I love, there's always positives to be found . No job, no car, no money, no home, no answers as to why somebody didn't like me enough to send me home. So all I have to say to you guys is beware... you spend a year and a half fighting your way through the intensive application process (I was medically rejected at first but got through it), give up your life, and you can be sent home without good reason. Just thought people should know about this. And I'm not saying it's like this everywhere. One of my friends from another program said it was nothing like this in the country she was in before... I guess it just depends on the staff. I realize Peace Corps does a lot of great things, but not so great things can come of it as well. I also just received a response to this letter, and as I expected I guess, nothing is going to come of it.
All I can say is good luck, and beware! Maybe finish putting your life on hold after you're sworn in. Be careful what you say to people! If you want to read the rest of my blog (note the lack of negativity!) it's at haleyingt.blogspot.com.
|By Diane Downey (188.8.131.52) on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 - 2:54 pm: Edit Post|
i believe your story. not only because such behavior seems indemic to large organizations but also because i can tell from your writing skills that you are not someone who has the need to lie. only inferior people feel the need to posture.
if the resources existed, it would be a boon to the whole org if this were settled in open court. i feel there must be recourse with the ACLU or another pro bono capable entity. it would behoove the PC to realize an internal solution may be less destructive.