June 29 - NPCA Response to story in USA Today

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Library: Peace Corps: Safety and Security of Volunteers: August 3 - Peace Corps Facing New Perils with Safety and Security of Volunteers: June 29 - NPCA Response to story in USA Today

By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, November 22, 2001 - 10:57 am: Edit Post

Read the the response which was sent out from National Peace Corps Association (NCPA) President Dane Smith responding to the questions raised by USA Today.

NCPA Response. The Peace Corps is disappointed with the content and tone of the USA Today article, which does not place into context the successful experiences of over 163,000 Volunteers who have served in 135 countries over the past forty years. While the Lowell Sun article was more balanced, an objective article would have discussed the many ways in which the Peace Corps prepares and supports Volunteers along with any criticism. In addition, we have prepared an op-ed we will be sending to the editors of the Lowell Sun. We are also reaching out to elected officials in Washington, D. C. and across the country who are friends of the Peace Corps as well as our friends at the National Peace Corps Association.

The Peace Corps often operates programs in some of the least developed countries and in some of the most remote areas in the world; unfortunately, health, safety and security risks are a unavoidable part life and of PCV Volunteer service. The health, safety and security of our Volunteers is the Peace Corps' highest priority.

Since 1961, 163,000 Americans have volunteered for Peace Corps service. During its 40 years, the Peace Corps has experienced 251 unfortunate volunteer deaths. The majority were related to motor vehicle accidents, illnesses and drowning. The Peace Corps considers even one death to be too many and each deeply affects every member of the Peace Corps family around the world. Regrettably, there have been 20 homicides in our 40+ year history. Historical context is necessary to understand the risks PCVs may face and the ways in which the Peace Corps works to minimize those risks.

Getting Information on What to Expect Our policy is to increase volunteers' capacity to keep themselves safe and to minimize risk through extensive training during each stage of service. Training begins from the moment a Volunteer is invited to serve-specific information that creates an accurate depiction of what to expect at their proposed country of service. Attention is focused on what conditions and circumstances a Volunteer might face in any given country, including unwanted attention and cultural behaviors that an American might find offensive, uncomfortable or embarrassing. Based on this information, a potential Volunteer makes an informed decision about living at any site surrounded by community members who will be their support system- or whether in fact any Peace Corps assignment is suitable for them.

Building A Network of Safety The better integrated the Volunteer becomes with the local culture and people, the safer the Volunteer will be. Before reporting to a work site, Volunteers participate in a three month, intensive training in the country of service, often living with host families. From this early experience forward, they build a network of friends and contacts in the host country that will support their needs, job performance and degree of success. Safety and security are predicated in part on the development of effective relationships between Volunteers and host- county community members. The proven Peace Corps approach to safety and security is characterized by obtaining and maintaining the acceptance and consent of host country authorities and the population- at-large for its presence and for the work of Volunteers.

Training To Keep PCVs Safe. PCVs are provided with training that prepares them to adopt culturally appropriate lifestyles and exercise judgment that promotes safety and reduces risk in their home, at work and while traveling. Safety training is offered throughout the 2-year tour of duty and is integrated into the language, cross-cultural, health and other components of training to maximize its effectiveness. By the end of training, PCVs are equipped with the skills they need to negotiate safely in their country of service. It is expected that individual Volunteers adopt a lifestyle that reduces their exposure to risk. This may entail considerable changes in one's lifestyle- living with host families, conservative dress, restrictions on movement and night travel, etc.

Site Selection Criteria Each site is "developed" before the Volunteers' arrival to ensure the placement is appropriate, safe and it has secure housing and work sites. Selection is based on established safety and security criteria that reflect consideration of site history, access to medical, banking, postal and other essential services; availability of communication, transportation and markets; different housing options and living arrangements.

Creation of Safety and Security Office Ad hoc security committees from the 1970s evolved into a task force during operations leading up to the Persian Gulf war when the Peace Corps suspended operations in Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco. In 1998, the Office of Volunteer Safety and Overseas Security was established to coordinate the agency's policy formulation, training and other activities related to Volunteer safety and security. An $8.3 million supplemental appropriation in 1998-99 to improve safety and security at our overseas posts led to greater attention to the identification of sites; upgraded communications systems to enhance safety; updating and regular testing of emergency action plans at each post; the hiring of three safety and security officers in each region; and conducting physical security assessments and expanding training. The Peace Corps also provided additional guard protection and physical security enhancements at overseas posts-deadbolt locks, security bars and personal alarms. The agency continually explores opportunities to strengthen efforts and systems in this area, including peer support networks and increased capability to provide adjustment and mental health support.

The Peace Corps also works closely with the U.S. embassy, sharing information, developing strategies and coordinating communications in the event of a crisis.

Incident Reporting Volunteers are expected to report any incident to the Peace Corps medical officer or other Peace Corps staff as appropriate. Using these means, the agency can provide appropriate support to the Volunteer and monitor the environment. From an analysis of incidence reports over the years, the Peace Corps has focused on risk factors (time of day, location, alcohol use, means of transportation etc.) and attempted to help Volunteers address them. Volunteers are urged to be aware of their environment and to adopt a safe lifestyle and exercise judgment in a manner that reduces their exposure to risks.

Responding to Safety Incidents. Peace Corps has a number of systems in place to respond quickly and effectively to safety incidents affecting our Volunteers. Procedures and protocols for responding to assaults, unauthorized absences, in-country crises such as natural disaster or civil unrest, are well laid out in a number of Peace Corps documents (i.e. Peace Corps Manual, Crisis Management Handbook, Rape Response Handbook) and included in the training for all staff and Volunteers.

Keeping In Touch With Volunteers. Volunteers work with and for members of the community of the host countries in which they work. Those they work and live with become their new colleagues, associates and friends. They also provide protection and help. This is the essence of the Peace Corps experience.

Each Peace Corps Post overseas has rules to assure some regular contact with Volunteers. Likewise, Volunteers are expected to stay in touch with the Peace Corps office on a periodic basis. Most Volunteers consider too much contact with the Peace Corps office as too controlling and restricting. Nevertheless, it is necessary to assure that volunteers can be contacted in case of emergency and for important notices. Volunteers are required to report their whereabouts when they travel away from their sites, and are required to receive Peace Corps permission if they intend to leave the country of assignment for vacation or other purposes. When Volunteers don't follow these rules they may are subject to disciplinary measures.

Emergency Action Plans. Each Peace Corps post has developed an Emergency Action Plan that states roles and responsibilities for staff and Volunteers, explains standard policies and procedures, and lists the emergency contact information for every Volunteer in country. Staff and Volunteers receive training in their respective roles and the plan is tested and revised regularly. Peace Corps works closely with the US Embassy sharing information, developing strategies and coordinating communications in the event of a crisis. It is expected that Volunteers will familiarize themselves with procedures and their roles, act responsibly and exercise sound judgment as the occasion warrants. To this end, Volunteers are expected to keep Peace Corps staff apprised of their whereabouts at all times.

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