March 18, 2004 - Des Moines Register: Peace Corps Volunteer Ann Bender flees Haiti as violence escalates

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Feb, 2004: Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers from Haiti: March 18, 2004 - Des Moines Register: Peace Corps Volunteer Ann Bender flees Haiti as violence escalates

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 9:13 am: Edit Post

Peace Corps Volunteer Ann Bender flees Haiti as violence escalates

Peace Corps Volunteer Ann Bender flees Haiti as violence escalates

Volunteers flee Haiti as violence escalates


Register Correspondent

03/18/2004 A volunteer trip to Haiti ended abruptly for a Clive woman after violence broke out in the small Caribbean country.

Ann Bender, 24, a graduate of Dowling Catholic High School, had served in the Peace Corps since August 2003 at a house clinic outside of Grand Goave in Haiti. Bender was one of 76 volunteers evacuated from the island nation Feb. 19, when rebel forces incited violence in the country that ultimately led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Bender's work at a one-nurse clinic in Dano, a small mountain community more than an hour's hike from Grand Goave, provided health education to local Haitians. "I talked to people about immunizations, AIDS, and nutrition during pregnancy," Bender said.

Most people she spoke to were aware of the emerging political struggle, Bender said.

"It's a part of their history, and they always knew there was a possibility for violence," the volunteer recalled. "A helicopter landed in the middle of Grand Goave and fired gunshots but none of the citizens was scared. They were used to it."

"In the newspapers, they show rebels with guns," she said. "That was never the Haiti I knew."

Bender said that if any Haitians felt threatened in the village, they would climb into the mountains for refuge.

Bender didn't see any of the fighting but heard gunshots. Though she said she felt secure, her mother, Cindy Bender, grew concerned as she watched the news.

"My mom was worried," Bender said. "It even scares me to see what's in the paper here, but that isn't all areas."

Cindy Bender said a visit to her daughter did not ease her fears.
"We went down in November to visit her and saw the poverty of the country, which heightened our nervousness about the trip," she said. "I knew the violence was mainly in the north, where she was not, but the stories coming through on CNN worried me."

Cindy Bender called Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., for reassurance. "I didn't hear anything for five days, but they finally told me Ann was OK. I'm just glad to have her home."

Barbara Daly, press secretary for the Peace Corps, said evacuations aren't common, but there are emergencies occasionally.

The most recent evacuations were in Morocco a year ago and in China after the SARS outbreak. Volunteers have already returned to Morocco, Daly said, and the Peace Corps will resume work in China in July.

"We have an emergency action plan in place specific to each country," Daly said. "We work closely with the embassies and conduct drills to see how fast we can contact each volunteer. Our number one priority is the safety of volunteers in the field."

Daly said a full day of a two-day volunteer orientation is devoted to safety. Once abroad, volunteers live with a host family to aid in their safety.

Now that Bender is safe at home, she is unsure of her future plans.

Bender, who graduated from the University of Iowa in 2002 with a degree in psychology, said she's considering returning to the Peace Corps, going into AmeriCorps or going to graduate school.

She reflects on the conditions in Haiti with sadness.

"The people were always caring and giving," she said. "Now the people who are suffering are those just trying to live their day-to-day lives. We can only hope it gets better and that the country finds a leader that will work for the people."

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Story Source: Des Moines Register

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Haiti; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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