April 18, 2003: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: United Nations: Refugees: UN Volunteers: Kenya RPCV Jeff Crook works as a UNV with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kibungo, Rwanda

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Congo - Kinshasa (Zaire): Peace Corps Congo Kinshasa : The Peace Corps in Congo - Kinshasa: April 18, 2003: Headlines: COS - Congo Kinshasa: United Nations: Refugees: UN Volunteers: Kenya RPCV Jeff Crook works as a UNV with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kibungo, Rwanda

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-239-147.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, August 25, 2004 - 8:48 pm: Edit Post

Kenya RPCV Jeff Crook works as a UNV with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kibungo, Rwanda

Kenya RPCV Jeff Crook works as a UNV with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kibungo, Rwanda

Flying by the Seat of his Pants: Jeff Crook, a typical volunteer in UNV’s humanitarian relief work

UNVNews #80 June 1998

by Judith Kiers, UNV Mass Information Officer

37-year old Jeff Crook works as a UNV with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kibungo, Rwanda. He has been transferred temporarily to the emergency operation in Gihembe refugee camp in Byumba, where 14,000 Masisi refugees have been relocated.

The second time I meet Jeff at work is in Byumba, northern Rwanda. There is a new emergency situation. The Masisi refugees from Mudende camp, Gisenyi, have been moved to Gihembe camp in Byumba. It is cold and rainy, the hills are high, the tops barren and the low hanging clouds come rolling in. It reminds him of Colorado weather, the state in the USA where he grew up.

What makes a Colorado-bred person, down to earth and realistic like Jeff Crook, stay in the Great Lakes of Africa for over five and half years, one wonders? After his political science studies he first joined the Peace Corps in Kenya, seeking adventure and a different lifestyle. After the war and genocide in 1994 in Rwanda, he found work with the American Refugee Committee as a logistician in Goma, then Zaire. He was in charge of the vehicle fleet, but also of burying the dead from all the refugee camps there. As he is a trained draftsman by trade, ARC soon found work for him, helping with building and reconstruction in Nyagatare, Umutara Prefecture of northern Rwanda.

In this new job he started building pit latrines and water sanitation systems in the transit centre where all the new returnees would arrive from Uganda and Tanzania. Also he added a new block of six classrooms to a school: the newly created prefecture of Umutura had received a lot of returnees after the 1994 war and the existing schools were not big enough to cater for all the new pupils. A health centre was built, too, and he worked on village planning. In all, he spent well over a year in Nyagatare. Mind you, it is really pioneering there. I admire his guts. But then Jeff claims to be easily satisfied. You have to be, working in Nyagatare. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do: everybody prefers to go to Kigali for the weekend.

After a break of some three months he returned to Rwanda. This time as a UN Volunteer. He was sent to Kibungo in the south-east, to work with UNHCR. Kibungo in August 1996 was another of these Rwandan prefectures where a lot of pioneering went on. After the 1994 war, only 300,000 of the original population were still living there. UNHCR did not yet have a fully staffed Field Office and Jeff got a lot of responsibility. He was the logistician, but also had other duties like community services and water and construction.

For the big "exodus", the repatriation in November 1996 from Zaire, he was called to Kigali. His experience as a logistician was needed and highly appreciated. Jeff loved the emergency period. "It was very hard work", he comments, "every evening you had meetings with the whole team to prepare for the next day. It is like flying by the seat of your pants; you are thinking on your feet! It was a time of decision making". He loved the teamwork. "It was the best experience I had in this type of work". He was building reception centres for the masses of refugees who returned and had to be registered on coming back into Rwanda before they could return to their place of origin.

During the next month, December 1996, the refugees started to return from Tanzania, especially to Kibungo. Jeff was called back to assist there. Another period of hard work, which, so he claims, "cost him a year of his life": but it was worth it. He was in his element: "You could be effective, motivate people and try to organise a smooth reception of the more than 500,000 people that returned to Kibungo".

In 1997 the UNHCR Field Office expanded gradually and Jeff’s duties decreased. He regretted having less responsibility, as he likes working for UNHCR. He knows there were problems but likes to make things better; he found it a challenge to try and help to improve things from the inside. Even as a kid he’d thought the "UN - the whole spectrum of it - is a very good idea". He would like to continue working for the United Nations, but feels he needs work that is yet more demanding. He would like to work to his full potential, and there is a limit, he feels, to what you can achieve as a volunteer.

The biggest challenge of Jeff’s experience in Africa has been communication. Almost apologetically he described this, saying "to learn and understand the languages here, especially in Rwanda, doesn’t come easily for me. I have so many things I want to say, and so many things I want to learn from the people". Then concludes firmly: "To learn another language would be another step away from home, but further into Africa".

He is pleased to be involved now in another emergency and feels he is more needed in Byumba than Kibungo. In Byumba he can help to build a "city" for 14,000 people in a couple of weeks. Considering the problems in the camp with water and sanitation, the rapid expansion and overcrowdedness of the hills occupied by these thousands of people, one could only agree with his wish to stay on.

The situation in the camp is nowhere near to ideal, yet Jeff strokes the heads of children and tries to make them feel at home. They seem to feel at ease with him. His tenderness is sincere and they return his caresses by seeking his attention in unobtrusive ways. They somehow feel he cares and this makes his work worthwhile. Yes, he is easily amused, and sometimes doesn’t even realise how much he can give, by just being there, making kids feel at home. "I am still a kid at heart". Well, it shows.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: UN Volunteers

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Congo Kinshasa; United Nations; Refugees; COS - Kenya



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.