May 5, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Several of us were invited to have lunch with Gaddi Vasquez, current PC director, touring various countries under his jurisdiction.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Honduras: Peace Corps Honduras: The Peace Corps in Honduras: May 5, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Several of us were invited to have lunch with Gaddi Vasquez, current PC director, touring various countries under his jurisdiction.

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Several of us were invited to have lunch with Gaddi Vasquez, current PC director, touring various countries under his jurisdiction.

Several of us were invited to have lunch with Gaddi Vasquez, current PC director, touring various countries under his jurisdiction.

Several of us were invited to have lunch with Gaddi Vasquez, current PC director, touring various countries under his jurisdiction. He had to fly into the airport at San Pedro Sula and be driven to Tegucigalpa because of smoke and fog obscuring the capital. Honduras has only four airports, all relatively small, Teguc, San Pedro, La Ceiba, and Roatán, a Caribbean tourist island. Smoke has also closed down La Ceiba airport on occasion.

Parenthetically, this smog problem not only has paralyzed aviation, but also jeopardized respiratory health, especially for children and the elderly. Yet one can also sympathize with a peasant farmer, following the ways of his father and grandfather before him, who at the start of each growing season faces a field of old corn or cane stubble that otherwise would have to be uprooted by hand and disposed of. Torching it not only clears the land, but gets rid of pesky snakes and insects and the ashes also give the soil a temporary nutritional boost. If the fire gets out of hand, well, thatís simply Godís will. Education by PCVs and NGOs has had a negligible effect in halting this practice. Probably the only remedy is sanctions in the form of fines and jail time.

At our luncheon with Director Vasquez, he wore jeans and a T-shirt, while we volunteers were all dressed to the nines. Vasquez had been a controversial nominee for Peace Corps director and, consequently, his appointment had been delayed several months; except for the first, Sargent Shriver, he is the only PC director never to have served in the corps. A businessman and Republican donor, Vasquez is a former member of the discredited Orange County , California , Board of Supervisors and had some involvement also in an S&L scandal. Once upon a time, he was a policeman and was pleased to find two ex-cops among the volunteers breaking bread with him at the luncheon.

The director is a personable guy around 50 and an accomplished speaker who responded well to hard questions from volunteers. I sat next to him at lunch and found him quite approachable. He is also fluent in Spanish, despite being a third-generation Mexican American. He told me his migrant farm worker parents always spoke Spanish at home and, even now, his father refuses to converse with him in English.

Goals for the Peace Corps, Vasquez said, are to double the number of volunteers over the next five years from 7,000 to 14,000. This will require expansion beyond the current 71 countries. Some 30 new countries have requested volunteers and are now being evaluated. Safety and security are major considerations, along with preservation of the quality of the PC experience. Vasquez said he is putting measurable performance indicators into place and has created an outreach campaign to attract minorities, married couples, and older applicants, constituencies not previously well represented. As a result, PC applications are up 15%. Vasquez reported that crimes against volunteers have been reduced since he assumed his post 15 months ago and that, so far, no volunteer fatalities have occurred during his watch. Asked about a volunteer who disappeared two years ago in Bolivia , he said the search for what happened to him continues. Volunteers were pulled out of China not because of Chinese objections to the war in Iraq , Vasquez told us, but because of SARS. He also has plans to send volunteers to Afghanistan and Iraq , but probably only experienced Crisis Corps volunteers (that is, returned PCVs giving 6 months of emergency service) because of security considerations.

In Honduras , Vasquez would like to see an increase to 300 volunteers (about 60 more than currently). He reported that he had spoken with President Maduro who strongly supports the Peace Corps and agrees with the expansion. Before their swearing-in ceremony, the latest batch of trainees met with President Maduro.

Vasquez said he is working with National Geographic to create a reality TV series on the lives of PCVs around the world and perhaps even an article in the magazine. While it could be fairly annoying to have a film crew following us around, it might prove pretty interesting and informative for the general public.

Next, officemate Agustín and I gave a presentation (in Spanish) at the training center to the trainees (soon to be new volunteers) about the function and services of our regional office. Some asked if they would be speaking Spanish as well as I do by the time they finish their term. I tried to be encouraging, though I seriously doubt it. (I must admit to enjoying an unfair advantage going in.) I also gave a safety talk to new west region recruits, asking them to always let me know their whereabouts.

Finally, both Agustín and I attended the swearing-in ceremony for the new crop of trainees held at the ambassadorís residence, providing a poignant moment for a seasoned veteran like myself. Before the ceremony, Ambassador Larry Palmer, in answer to a traineeís question, roundly defended the Bush policy on Iraq , as would be expected. Another trainee, African American like the ambassador himself, half-jokingly complimented him on his trademark hairstyle (a rather stark white Afro). Another male trainee, wearing a suit and white shirt for the event, appeared out-of-step with his feet shod only in barefoot sandals. Several of the new recruits are over 40 and expressed interest in joining our OAKS senior support group. After the trainees sang both the Honduran and American national anthems a cappella, Ambassador Palmer administered the oath. This was followed by a profusion of cheers, tears, and hugs. Among the new graduates whom I hugged was a young woman originally from Nicaragua whose relatives from there will be visiting her soon. As a matter of policy, applicants are not assigned to their country of birth.

The evening right after the ceremony, I joined the new volunteers in celebrating at a Teguc restaurant, all acting so radiant and excited that their enthusiasm was infectious. However, based on past experience and the inevitability of illness, accidents, thefts, family crises, frustration, and just plain boredom, not all those happy faces will still be around Honduras at the end of two years. Worldwide, the PCV dropout rate is about one-third and is the same in Honduras , though many of those departing early still have managed to make a substantial contribution, especially if they have remained in-country for a year or more.

Before leaving the PC office in Teguc to return to La Esperanza, I picked up an informational flyer about bats, showing not only how beneficial they are (except for vampire bats), but how to keep them out of your house by sealing up holes when they fly out at night. (Garlic was not mentioned, but others have told me itís effective.) Never try to keep a bat as a pet, the flyer warns.

On our return trip to La Esperanza, Agustín and I picked up several packets of tree seeds for a volunteer at a seed bank in Siguatepeque. There, we were informed, international tree day is May 30, a time when many school kids plant trees (although sometimes these are uprooted and stolen during the night). Among the tree seeds represented on the bankís inventory sheet, only three provide fruit: almond, cashew, and gandúl. The vernacular names of some species were listed next to their official names, including such oddities as ron ron, ipil ipil, negrito, and nim.

After their swearing in, several volunteers from the new group arrived to take up their duties in La Esperanza. Some fell ill immediately with stomach-intestinal upsets, an inevitable part of the adaptation process. A new municipal development volunteer in her late fifties, Deborah, and I have begun hanging out together. She and her former husband were homesteaders in rural Maine raising their children while building a house by themselves in the woods. Later, Deborah worked in the arts and local government. She is anxious to learn Spanish because one of her daughters lives in Mexico with her Mexican husband. Though it is a struggle, Deb is making a valiant effort, speaking out whether or not every word is correct.

A couple of weeks later, I attended a meeting of SAG, the Support Advocacy Group offering informal peer counseling. Being a good, non-judgmental listener and keeping confidences are the main points. Frankly, since members of my own group have left, requests for my counsel from other volunteers have diminished. Our SAG meeting was mostly devoted to inducting and training new members, since the two-year term of most volunteers means continual turnover. SAG seems to be most helpful in the early stages of service and after a traumatic event or serious illness.

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Directors - Vasquez; Director's Overseas Trips; COS - Honduras; PCVs in the Field - Honduras



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