Peace Corps Treatment of Volunteer's Death

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: 2006.12.27: December 27, 2006: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Fallen: Safety: Aspen Times: The Family of Peace Corps Volunteer Tessa Horan says the Peace Corps' handling of her death in a shark attack in Tonga in February left them with a bitter feeling: Peace Corps Treatment of Volunteer's Death

By Anonymous ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 11:56 am: Edit Post

Having lost my wife of 35 years to cancer last August I can understand the feelings and emotions of the family. Yet at the same time there seems to be an unreasonableness in inviting PCV friends to go roundtrip from Tonga to New Mexico for the memorial service.

Since the family went to Tonga I don't understand why a memorial service could not have also been held there - to honor the service of their daughter, and to accomodate all of her friends -- not only PCVs but the families and friends she worked with and for -- that lived in Tonga and could never have come to the U.S.

I'm not sure about traveling with their daughter home. Although it sounds logical and easy there may be two problems. The Tonga government may have rules for departure, that require quick action, or the U.S. government may have wanted to move around Tonga government rules and getting the PCV home quickly may have been to the benefit of the family. In addition there may have been U.S. rules, including Consular actions required both in Tonga and upon landing in the U.S., that may have not made it possible for the family and the PCV to travel together. Illogical yes, but that's the way governments work. I know that it is very difficult when I arrange for a family member in the U.S. and a deceased to travel together from the U.S. to many Asian countries because of requirements of both U.S. and foreign governments.

I know with my wife, that part of her family living in the Philippines, could not come to the U.S. memorial service because of costs and immigration practices of our government. So not only did I hold a memorial service locally but I also held two services in the Philippines where it was easy for friends and family to attend.

I do hope that Peace Corps can adapt the practices, supporting our fallen men and women in the active military, as it relates to financial support to honor fallen PCVs. But, even here if a financial standard is set we need to tie it to the cost of living in various locations around the world, for purposes of a memorial service. The cost of a service in the Philippines, including reception and the cost in Russia - may vary. A flat rate might not work overseas.

I am glad that this issue has been brought to the forum. No one plans for death of a PCV or any loved one and the costs and demands when you are in grief are both hard to handle financially and emotionally. And we sometimes fail to remember the needs of all of those that want to honor the person who died.

By William Seeley ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 12:50 pm: Edit Post

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer (India 38 from 1966-68) I understand the sacrifice that volunteers make when serving America around the world in remote locations, which often present acute physical and health risks. I came very close to being bitten by a cobra snake. One of my co-volunteers was killed while riding a motorcycle that hit the back of an unlit bullock cart. Another volunteer in our group nearly drown while canoeing down a turbulent river.

The Peace Corps should pay for a medical disability and death policy in the amount of $50,000 for every volunteer in the field. Such an insurance policy would provide a basic "support cushion" to volunteers and their surviving family members in the event of a disabling injury or death while the volunteer is serving their country.

William Seeley

By Pat Smith ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 1:08 pm: Edit Post

There have been several volunteer deaths in Peace Corps history, it is sad that trained personnel in grievance counseling and liaison roles could not be tasked with these situations. I would recommend an approach such as the US military uses with trained counselors and protocol officers who are part of staff. Oops, I forgot as apparently Anonymous did also that anything related to the military is a dirty word or at least too politically incorrect to the majority of the Peace Corps community which counsels current mangement practices. So much for a united community or or a One Team concept various military services have come to operate under in addition to other agencies of the federal government such as FEMA, the Coast Guard, and many First Responders. The exclusion of expertise by disallowing inactive terminating military reservists to serve as volunteers in such positions as medics, engineers, or grief counselors bespeaks of the mindset of current RPCV "leaders". Unfortunately, any hope for the current "leadership" in the former volunteer community to learn anything from other federal agencies or especially from military practices will continue to fall on deaf ears.

By Anonymous ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 5:21 pm: Edit Post

My sympathy goes to to the family and friends of Tessa as well as her fellow volunteers and her Tongan friends.
I was in Tonga II,(two) the group that arrived on January 2, 1968. I was drafted out of country and served 13 months in the Army in Vietnam. It has always seemed to me that PC Volunteers who lose their lives while in service to their country should receive the same consideration as those in the military. I think the Peace Corps should furnish a United States flag for the burial of RPCVs as is done for military veterans.
A couple of years ago I wrote to the Peace Corps with the flag suggestion and was blown off with a letter telling me where I could purchase a Peace Corps flag. I then tried writing to three RPCVs
in Congress and received not one reply, I guess because I am not from their state it didn't even get staff attention.
On a personal level, I don't care for any recognition for my combat service as it was not voluntary and I am not from a "military" family.
I would value recognition from my government for my Peace Corps service as it represents my values and I take pride in my work in Tonga. I certainly would not want a military headstone but perhaps being offered a Peace Corps one would be appreciated whether it was accepted or not. Since 9/11, no one in our government, and certainly not in the administration, has talked about peace. I wish someone would be firm on peace as the only way to achieve security. We need to stand up for the Peace Corps and its work. I grieve for what has recently happened in Tonga.

By Peggy Neal ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 8:26 pm: Edit Post

Yes, I agree that there should be more benefits for RPCVs... the flag was a good one; however, I feel that our organization should lobby congress to provide for low cost group medical insurance as many of us experienced long lasting medical expenses due to illnesses we picked up while working in third world countries.
Loosing a child who was serving in the Peace Corps must be tragic... money could not compensate, but I seem to remember we had some type of life insurance policy in the late 60's.

By Daniel ( - on Thursday, December 28, 2006 - 10:23 pm: Edit Post

To the Prater Family,

I am very sorry for your loss. It must be devastating for the family. I too understand you sense of dismay with Peace Corps as an organization in their response to safety issues related to service volunteers.

For many years my family has gone through alot as have many other families who have been undermined by Peace Corp's reaction to safety of volunteers and how former volunteers and their families are handled by headquarters.

Mr. Prater, I have been lobbying Congress and Peace Corps since 1994 for changes in health, safety and for volunteers rights and the rights of the families of volunteers. As you will see on this web site and within the Peace Corps community the issue is very contraversial. There have been limited changes. We had hearings a few years ago.

Recently, we have made sucessful strides on the hill. I won't discuss them on this web site. However, if you ever want to talk about concerns or just want someone who understands the bureacracy and blantant disregard for the volunteers who have gone through safety issues.

Here is my phone number 978-462-3868.


Discrimination, blaming the victim, and total disregard for the families of volunteers who have had someone in service die or is considered missing today is par for the course at Peace Corps.

It has been going on for years.

In relation to Tonga and how they have handled these situations, you should look at the Deborah Gardner case, if you have not already.

By Jeffrey Shorn ( - on Friday, December 29, 2006 - 7:35 pm: Edit Post

It's been 38 years since I served in the Peace Corps in Iran. I can't believe that in all this time dealing with staff and the PC bureacracy has not improved. It was bad then, now reading this sad story only let's me believe it has gotten worse. How is that possible? It was easier to deal with the Iranians to try to solve our various concerns than with our own government, who showed little or no concern for the lives of the volunteers. It is way past the time to re-examine how the PC functions and treats its volunteers. They really don't care and have shown this time and again. It's time to wake up Peace Corps or terminate the entire program. Shame on you.

By WR Crew ( - on Monday, January 01, 2007 - 12:44 am: Edit Post

Does this lack of sensitivity surprise anyone who has experience with PC Admin? It's terrible what has happened. But as stated, it has been happeningg for many many years---and no change. Why does anyone expect change now? This is an orgnaization in-bred to protect itself.

You all know as well as I do the quality of people working there. Of course I am generalizing. But we all know PCVs who have flunked out of PC and were hired in D.C. And are now in management positions! Now, you tell me these are managament material people. We also all know country directors who are completely inadequate.

The solution? Professional management from outside. Adequate screening of personnel. Losing the attitude and cover your ass posturing which creates such pain for people like the Praters

WR Crew
Romania 96-98

By Jan Worth ( - on Wednesday, February 21, 2007 - 8:47 am: Edit Post

My condolences to Tessa Horan's family. Reading these articles and the commentary above, my heart fell. I was in Tonga in 1976 when Deborah Gardner was murdered by another volunteer, Dennis Priven, and the way PC handled that tragedy was similarly self-protecting and callous. It is incredibly disheartening that in 30 years, Peace Corps administration seems to have learned nothing. Peace Corps foundation, in training, and in everything that comes after training, is based on learning the cultures of the host countries; Peace Corps should have taken a lesson from the Tongans themselves, who know how to respectfully grieve. To Tessa Horan's family, I send my heartfelt sympathies. How wonderful that you are building a library in her memory.

By Eric ( - on Sunday, May 20, 2007 - 1:49 pm: Edit Post

Go Peace Corps!

1. Provide technical assistance
2. Tell them about us
3. Tell us about them

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