Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962–64) has done us a great service by pulling together our Peace Corps books! These are books written by RPCVs and the Staff about the Peace Corps experience and the agency over the last fifty years. Take a look. There are 223 books that are only the books written by Peace Corps Volunteers about their Peace Corps experience. There is also a list of books on the agency. And another list by members of the Peace Corps family. Marian has done these lists in preparation for the Library of Congress Luncheon next September in Washington, D.C., the first events of the 50th Anniversary. The lists will then be linked to the Library of Congress website. Take a look at:
Archives for Peace Corps today
[I found this following comment on a blog run by Adil Syed who lives in Pakistan. The blog item was written by Sharon Housley who manages marketing for FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.comsoftware for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage http://www.notepage.net a wireless text messaging software company.]
“Let’s take a look at slogans and how just a few words can say volumes. A slogan is a memorable phrase used in conjunction with a political, commercial, or religious advertisement. Slogans are used to convey a deeper meaning. Slogans can be used to elicit emotions, or the slogan might paint a visual image that implies something more.
“When considering a slogan or a tagline, keep in mind your objectives. What image do you wish to portray? Slogans should be short, but not to the point of being pithy. Slogans should conjure positive images and distinguish the value your company or product provides.
“The best way to analyze slogans is to look at a few.
“Slogan: “The toughest job you will ever love” (Peace Corps)
“Message behind slogan: This is much more than just a job; it takes heart to be in the Peace Corps; join the Peace Corps and you will be a better person. This job is not about money it is about helping people.”
Sharon goes to say [about the Peace Corps and other slogans] “Effective slogans leave impressions in the minds of people who see or hear the slogans. Often slogans will have hidden meanings, or be a play on words. The goal of the slogan creator should be to create a memorable tagline that conveys a key benefit or differentiates the brand. Slogans will often help position the product or service in the marketplace. Slogans with just a few words can indicate superior value, excellence, or inspiration.
A business identity and image conveyed through a short statement will affect the way that consumers, competitors and others in the industry perceive your business. Slogans will distinguish your company in a unique way. Words are powerful, and if used properly, they can be an important sales tool.”
Back around 1981 there was, as I mentioned in another blog, an RPCV reunion in Washington, D.C., at Howard University and I remember an RPCV woman standing up at some point and telling everyone that it was her husband who had come up with the slogan “The toughest job you will ever love,” and I thought ‘wow’ that’s pretty impressive.
It wasn’t true I was to find out. I went search for who had come up with the slogan and it turned out that when Carolyn Payton took over the agency [being appointed, and then fired, by Sam Brown, but that's another story...] she enlisted the help of a New York Ad Agency and they came up with several slogans and the senior staff picked ‘toughest job’. At the moment the name of the agency slips my mind, but I’m sure someone out there might recalls it and add a comment to this blog.
Now, every new Peace Corps director wants a new slogan [the latest, I think, is "Life is calling. How far will you go?'] back in the mid-nineties when Carol Bellamy took over the Peace Corps, focus groups of outsiders recalled at once, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” The slogan from the early ’80s has summed up the experience.
But then again, there a quite a few RPCVs who remember when they were still in middle school those public service announcements on their television sets that showed the glass half full and asked the famous question how ‘you’ saw the world.
I’ve always believed that Peace Corps recruiting should start in the middle school [and often it does when an RPCV teacher comes into class and shows slides from their Peace Corps years. That's when kids decide to join.]
Sometimes it is a book that turned a person towards the Peace Corps. More than one college student has joined the agency after reading Peter Hessler’s (China 1996-98) River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. Others join because its a family tradition. Something that is passed on from mother to daughter, father to son, from brothers and sister, uncles and aunts. I’m not sure a slogan is the the turning point that makes anyone join the Peace Corps. But then again, how many of us joined the Peace Corps after we heard these words, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what you country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
PEACE CORPS ON JEOPARDY - MARCH 11, 2011 and MARCH 16, 2011
Tune in tonight to test your Peace Corps trivia prowess on Jeopardy! Tonight’s episode (3/11) will feature a Peace Corps category (5 questions).
ABC. 7:30 pm EST - but check your local listings. http://www.jeopardy.com/
Next week, the March 16th episode, will feature an RPCV contestant.
Candlelight Vigil for Kate Puzey on Friday, March 11 in D.C.
Kate Puzey is a Volunteer who was murdered in Benin in 2009. Her story was highlighted on an episode of 20/20 in January. The Puzey family have started a new website in Kate’s memory and they are hosting a vigil this Friday in D.C. to honor her memory and service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Here are details from the Kate’s Voice website, which the Puzey family started to honor Kate’s memory:
March 11th Vigil: “Light A Candle For Kate”
On Friday, March 11th - the 2nd anniversary of Kate Puzey’s death - there will be a vigil to honor Kate and the sacrifices of all other Peace Corps volunteer victims in front of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. from 6:30 - 7:30 PM.
They also have a facebook page for Kate’s Voice.
The Puzey family is also very sensitive to the experiences of other Volunteers who are victimized, including survivors of physical and sexual assault. They are hoping for a supportive turnout at the vigil this Friday. If you or someone you know is in the D.C. area this Friday, please consider honoring Kate’s memory with a visit to the Capitol.
Following a recent episode of 20/20 featuring former Peace Corps Volunteers who were sexually assaulted during their overseas service, Congress has decided to explore the issue further and has asked a group of assault survivors to provide it with additional information from former volunteers about their experiences, prevention and response efforts, and possible policy enhancements, for an upcoming hearing, most likely at the end of March. Pursuant to that request, First Response Action is gathering stories of former volunteers who experienced sexual assault while serving in the Peace Corps. First Response Actions has model affidavits to help survivors tell their stories, and will share those stories with Congress affording survivors whatever level of anonymity or attribution they choose. First Response Action is also interested in the stories of other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, including former Country Directors, who may have information regarding sexual assault prevention and response policies.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or would like further information, please contact Casey Frazee at firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries will be considered confidential.
About 6 months ago Marian Beil, the publisher of this site, met with one of the top organizers at the Peace Corps for the 50th celebration to share some ideas on how the Peace Corps might mark the occasion. One of Marian’s suggestions was to have an evening of dancing for PCVs and RPCVs to music played by bands from around the world — the kind of music that gets us up out of our seats — with a partner or not — to bask in the joy of having been able to embrace the world through our Peace Corps service.
The response from the non-RPCV Peace Corps employee was 1) Peace Corps was being looked at closely by the GAO about expenditures from the Chicago 45th and they needed to be very careful [as far as I know the NPCA paid for that event in Chicago, not the Peace Corps]; 2) All events that the Peace Corps would present must be to further the Peace Corps mission — not to entertain RPCVS; and 3) imaging how “un-Peace Corps” it would be for the Peace Corps to throw a party with a bunch of RPCVs standing around “drinking white wine.” Well, she was right there: We drink beer!
So now we have this State Department event and guess what, we are not invited to this Peace Corps celebration. How does this event not fit the ‘image’ if we are having a good time?
But who will be invited? And what will they be drinking? Black Russians?
I got an interesting email over the weekend from a woman friend who was an early PCV. She was responding to the posted I put up about the two events on March 17 that profiles the ‘founders’ of the agency. She made a valid point, speaking about the Peace Corps HQ panel discussion, saying: “With all due respect to these folks, do you find it as perplexing as I do that none of these panels ever includes early Volunteers–there are some fairly accomplished people around town who were part of Ghana 1 or Chile 1 or Colombia 1 or even Philippines 1!
“I would think that audiences may want to know what it was like from the perspective of the Volunteer. These guys–and you do notice that with the exception of Mary Ann, they are all guys (shades of 1961) –provided lots of vision but they had little idea of the realities faced by the Volunteers of the first several years, the ones who made the Peace Corps work!!!”
Well said. Perhaps the Peace Corps and the National Archives might not think of having ‘original’ PCVs at their panel on the evening of March 17–not realizing , but you would think that the Peace Corps, with a director and deputy, both of whom are RPCVs, would let one or two RPCVs on the panel(s).
So in an attempt to help out the Peace Corps, here are a few names of early RPCVs, all of whom were in their first groups overseas, in 1961, and all of whom live in D.C., so the Peace Corps won’t have to pay for them to travel to Washington. God knows, the Peace Corps wouldn’ want to spend any money!
Dennis Grubb (Colombia 1961-63) worked in Training and for Bob Gale, Recruitment.
Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961-63) work in D.C. in Training, later produced Give Me A Riddle, the first Peace Corps film for recruitment.
Maureen Carroll (Philippines 1961-63) first RPCV hired by Charlie Peters in Office of Evaluation.
Tom Scanlon (Chile 1961-63) did recruiting for the agency.
Gerogianna McGuire (Ghana 1961-63) Also did another tour in the Peace Corps.
Roberta Kaplan (Sierra Leone 1961-63)
Billie Day–Sierra Leone (1961-63) A former DC teacher and now head of League of Women Voters in DC.
A few others from the Philippines 1961-63 group who live in greater Washington, D.C.: Claire Horan Smith. She lives near by in Columbia, MD. She could drive into town (and pay the gas herself!) so it won’t cost the Peace Corps any money; Evelyn Mittman Wrin; Patricia MacDermot Kasdan; Judith Cridler Claire; Ann Snuggs; Edmee Hawkes Pastpre.
Christina Lisi is the point person for the 50th in the Peace Corps. That is a small (temporary) office (a broom closet?) of 4-5 people and she is a Schedule C, a political appointment who, of course, is not an RPCV. She worked for Dodd and now she has a government job as pay-off and she is very nice and she is all excited about the National Archives event, “months in the make”…but because she isn’t a PCV, she doesn’t get how insulting it is for RPCVs to be passed over by young men and women, like herself, who weren’t even born when these first PCVs went to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Philippines and half a dozen other countries when no one knew what they were walking into, or whether it would work, or how safe they would be out in the developing world.
Christina, it appears from speaking with her, is doing everything by the numbers for this 50th Anniversaray and she is afraid of ‘crossing’ the Peace Corps lawyers. That’s too bad. When Shriver was the Director and he wanted to get something done, he gave it to Bill Josephson who was the GC at the time and Josephson figured out how to ’scratch the law,’ as he would say at the time. I don’t know who the current crop of suits are in the GC’s office but I’d guess none of them were PCVs (why get your hands dirty?) and all of them are government bureaucrauts holding now a GS Slots and covering their asses at every turn.
Now Christina and the Director’s office are too timid to bust a few balls. Oh, and they have plenty of excuses. It can’t be done. The lawyers say no. We have no money. Well, I’d suggest you get rid of these lawyers and hire a few who can get the job done.
I would ask someone in the Peace Corps building to ask Bill Josephson how to get things done when he appears on the 17th of March at HQ for the panel discussion. He’ll tell you. It was Josephson, by the way, who came up with the idea of how to fund the Peace Corps before it was acted into law. He found that there was authority for the Peace Corps in Section 400 of the Mutual Security Act of 1954. He told Shriver that if the Peace Corps could put Volunteers in the field and prove itself a success before Congress actually had to consider its legal permanence, its chance of survival would be measureably increased.
Of course there were risk (not that the Peace Corps lawyers today would take any; they are holding onto their office chairs with both hands) and Congrss might get pissed off at the Peace Corps for ‘jump starting’ the agency, but Josephson figured that the Peace Corps would be in a much less precarious position if it were a living body instead of just an idea. So, that is why we have a Peace Corps that 50 years later is giving all these ‘pencil-pushers’ a job in Washington so they can say ‘no’ to every idea that comes along from any RPCV in the room.
By the way, to help Christina and her merry band of organizers for the 50th Anniversary, send her your ideas. Her email is:email@example.com
Also, Christina did promise me that ’someday soon’ RPCVs will be hosted on panels at the agency, not, of course, at the National Archives!
[Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas later this month, or early next month, will begin a series of Hearings on the Hill about PCVs being attacked and raped. Here is the speech he gave today, February 9, 2011, on the Hill.]
ROLL CALL OF THE PEACE CORPS VICTIMS
Washington, Feb 9 -
Mr. Speaker, I want to address an important issue that has come to light recently. It has to do with the wonderful group of volunteers that serve in the United States Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps was the idea of John F. Kennedy. He went to the University of Michigan way back in 1960, and he started encouraging those college students to get involved in other countries and helping those countries in their social development and their cultural development in the name of peace. A wonderful idea.
When he became President in 1961, President Kennedy signed an Executive order establishing the now important Peace Corps. By 1966, there were over 15,000 young Americans, all volunteers, that were working in the Peace Corps throughout the world.
Since those early days of the Peace Corps, 200,000 Americans, mostly young people, 60 percent female, have volunteered for their two year service in the Peace Corps to work in Third World countries on everything from health to farming to small business, just helping other people throughout the world in a way that not only benefits them personally but benefits the recipients in these foreign countries. They really are, in my opinion, along with our United States military, the greatest ambassadors we have from our country to show that we are concerned about the welfare of other nations. And they help build a better life for not only the people that they come in contact with, but their generations and the children that they have as well. I think they are really volunteer angels.
The work that a Peace Corps volunteer does is hard work. It’s important, but it’s very difficult. They’re in a place far from home, sometimes very remote and primitive areas, and yet they, on a daily basis, are working to improve the lives of these individuals.
Like I said, I think it’s one of the best things that we do in this country as ambassadors are those young people in the Peace Corps. It’s tough work. It’s hard work. I wouldn’t do it. It’s so difficult. And you know, there are people in our country, a lot of them mainly young people who choose that as a calling to help other people in other countries.
I’ve got four kids, and they’re all kind of wanting to save the world, too. They’ve been to Mexico and lived in orphanages in Trinidad. They’ve been to Honduras. They’ve been to Africa and Zambia, all with that mentality of helping other people.
But the Peace Corps volunteers are people like that who spend at least two years in service to their country. And sometimes when they are in those foreign countries, they stick out. They are noticeable by the people who live in that country. Because of that, occasionally, more often than it should be, they attract crimes that occur against them. That is the issue, Mr. Speaker, I want to address tonight.
Over the last ten years, 1,000 Americans, mainly women, have been sexually assaulted, raped or assaulted in some other way, in a foreign country representing the United States in the Peace Corps.
Between 2000 and 2009, the Peace Corps themselves say there were over 221 rapes and attempted rapes, almost 150 major sexual attacks, and 700 other sexual assaults. Sexual assault is anything from groping to fondling to conduct that is offensive to that Peace Corps volunteer. Once again, 1,000 crimes against American Peace Corps volunteers. Recently, the Peace Corps has announced that there is an average of 22 rapes a year against American Peace Corps volunteers.
This is not acceptable, Mr. Speaker. We are talking about real people. They are real stories and they are real victims, and I want to mention just a few of those tonight in the limited time that I have.
The first of those is a person that I have gotten to know personally. A wonderful person, Jess Smochek.
She joined the Peace Corps in 2004. On her first day as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bangladesh, a group of men started sexually groping her as she was just walking to the home that she was supposed to live in, but no one really did anything. She told the Peace Corps staff over and over again that she felt unsafe in Bangladesh in the situation she was in, but nobody did anything.
Months later, she came in contact with some men who kidnapped her. They beat her and they sexually assaulted her, but they weren’t through. They abandoned her and threw her in an abandoned alley somewhere in Bangladesh.
According to Jess, the Peace Corps did everything they could to cover this up because they seemed to be more worried about the officials in Bangladesh and what they thought might happen to their relationship with the United States than they did about caring for this victim of crime. Jess says that the Peace Corps blamed her for the conduct of others. They blamed her for being a sexual-assault victim.
Mr. Speaker, a rape victim is never to blame for the crime that is committed against her. It is the offender that is always to blame. And we need to understand that these precious people who go overseas and represent us, when a crime is committed against them, we take their side. And we don’t assume they did anything wrong, because they didn’t. They were just a victim of crime, and the criminal is the one that should be held accountable for that conduct. Rape is never the fault of the victim. It’s always the fault of the perpetrator.
But Jess got no satisfaction from the Peace Corps, according to her. When she got home, she was told to tell other people that she was coming back to the United States for medical reasons, to have her wisdom teeth pulled out.
This was her case and a few others were brought to light recently by “ABC News” and “20/20,” bringing her story and others. There are more, and I will try to cover as many as I can in the time that I have.
Laurel Jackson was sent to Romania, a Peace Corps volunteer. She was constantly harassed, both physically and verbally. She couldn’t walk to her house where she was staying without verbal assaults and things being thrown at her. She was spit on, she was punched, and rocks were thrown at her and her life was threatened several times. This took place on a weekly basis. They told her that a young American with blonde hair would stand out, and that she was going to continue to be a victim.
She was fondled over ten times when she tried to ride public transportation. So she quit riding public transportation in Romania, and she started walking, to help these folks in Romania. She said that the Peace Corps knew that these crimes were happening against her, but she says they didn’t take it seriously and no legal recourse was offered. She was exposed to by young men who exposed themselves; and she was told, well, don’t be around those people. No one did anything, and no one cared.
When she was followed home by some men, she did talk to the police and they gave her some bodyguards. She requested a new location, but she was turned down and her transfer was denied.
When she returned home, she tried to get counseling, but she received no counseling for the crimes committed against her. And here is what she has to say. She said, “I would have liked the Peace Corps to have never put me there. They knew it was unsafe for me. They should have communicated with the police and the school in their own investigation. I would have liked them to take me more seriously when I reported these crimes. I would have liked to have had counseling when I returned.” But once again, Mr. Speaker, no one did anything.
When she left Romania, she told the Peace Corps not to send anybody else over there, but they did. And the person who replaced her was also racially abused with swastikas drawn on her residence because she was a Jewish American.
The next individual, I’m not going to use her real name because she doesn’t want us to know her true identity, but she grew up on a ranch. She now lives in Texas, and she went to Lesotho in May of 1996 to convince farmers to plant trees and show them how to do that. But Mary Jo, as I will call her, stuck out the two years in this location, even though it was difficult. She lived in a small village in a string of villages that were about 80 miles south of Maseru.
She had arranged her ticket back to the United States when she was attacked because she felt unsafe. But here is what happened to her.
On an evening in 1999, Mary Jo and her neighbor left a village shop and were headed down a dirt path to their home. Her neighbor’s ex-boyfriend followed and after a confrontation struck Mary Jo with a rock. The blow knocked out six of her teeth, destroyed her eye socket, and left a palm-sized crater in her face. The rock had crushed the bones in her face, and blood had started coming down the back into her throat. She ended up alone in a deserted section of the hospital when she was finally found. She says, “It was dark, I was scared, and I didn’t know where anyone was.”
Taxis only ran from her village at night, and so she couldn’t really reach the Peace Corps. So some neighbors found someone to drive her 20 miles to a local hospital. She remembers a young woman stitching her up and she remembers being, once again, left alone, abandoned. She felt abandoned by her own country.
The next day, she was moved to another hospital in South Africa, where a surgeon installed a metal plate to hold the bones together around her left eye and her chin and cheeks and nose.
The Peace Corps brought her back to her home base, but she said they didn’t help her in her recovery. Mary Jo and her sister, who had flown in from the United States, had to sleep in a hotel because the agency wouldn’t let them stay in a transit house, and they had difficulty getting back to the United States. She even had to beg the staff to take her to the airport. At no time, according to her, did the Peace Corps ask her what they could do to help. She said, “It was terrible. I was so messed up.” She has had ten operations in two and a half years, and surgeons put metal plates in her face and she also has false teeth.
Mary Jo, being the remarkable person she is, said she wasn’t really angry at the Peace Corps because she was attacked in this village by villagers. She was angry because nobody in the agency seemed to care. Once again, no one did anything.
“It was like I was never in the Peace Corps,” she said. And when she got home, no one contacted her from the Peace Corps to check on her to see how this victim of crime was doing. The attacker went to jail for three weeks, but he was later released because Mary Jo had come back to the United States.
Kate Puzey was another angel from America who had gone to help a country that most of us have never heard of or would be able to locate on a map, Benin, where she went in 2007. She was a teacher at a local school. She formed a girls’ club to help empower the young women that were in this school.
It’s hard to be a girl in that part of the world, according to Kate’s cousin, Ms. Jacobs. And the girls started speaking about some of the issues they were facing, and they were starting to communicate that to Kate. Before long, the girls began to tell Kate about another person who worked for the Peace Corps but wasn’t an American. He was a citizen of Benin who was paid by the Peace Corps to help work with the Peace Corps. His name was Constant Bio, and these girls had said that this person was sexually assaulting these young girls.
She had started hearing that he had been sleeping with some of the girls, he had gotten some of them pregnant, and some of them had been raped.
At the request of several teachers, Kate sent an email to the Peace Corps in Benin’s capital recommending that this person be fired from the Peace Corps. She said, “Please believe me, I’m not someone who likes to create problems, but this has been weighing on me heavily.” This was in an email that she sent that was found later and turned over to ABC News. “This man is not someone I want representing the Peace Corps to this community.”
Bio’s brother worked as a manager in the Peace Corps office, and she asked her role to be kept secret because she didn’t want this criminal, this rapist of young girls, in this country, to know that she had reported him. But he found out about it anyway. And so when he found out about it, this is what happened: on March 11, 2009, the day after the Peace Corps authorities had fired this criminal, Bio, and just two months short of completing her two year commitment to the Peace Corps, Kate was found dead on her front porch with her throat slit.
The Puzey family says the Peace Corps was insensitive in its treatment of them until officials had learned about the ABC News report, and then they got more involved. Unfortunately, it was too late. Unfortunately, no one did anything or paid attention.
Before the news reported this murder, this homicide, the Puzey family believes and states that the Peace Corps did little to show compassion or interest. Kate’s father Harry says this: “She was my hero. I thought maybe a representative would come to the house to talk to us, or at least a letter in the mail. But that did not happen, because just a box showed up with my daughter’s belongings that came by deliveryman.” This is disrespectful, Mr. Speaker, to the life of this wonderful person and to her family.
Now the Peace Corps has changed some of their procedures, and we will get to that in just a minute.
The fifth example I want to talk about is Jill Hoxmeier. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guyana, which is in South America. She was a volunteer, and she had created ways to help young women combat and understand the disease of HIV/AIDS and other functions and other diseases. She was teaching them life-skill courses and wanted to help build stronger relationships between the mothers there and their daughters.
In 2007, a year into her service, she was riding her bike home from work when she was assaulted, dragged in the bushes and sexually assaulted by a man who had been following her for some time. He choked her so hard she couldn’t breathe or even scream.
She believes the Peace Corps needs to do more to help victims cut through the bureaucratic red tape and get the care they need. “It was too hard to navigate the problems that I had been going through all by myself.” Once again, insensitivity, and nothing seemed to happen.
Jess and other victims who are members of the Peace Corps who have been victims have formed an organization, a support group, but it is going to be a group that is going to be active. They call it the First Response Action Group, and we will see more of them hopefully here on the Hill.
Today, I met with the Director of the Peace Corps, Aaron Williams, who happened to be in the Peace Corps years ago. He is now the director. I explained to him and talked to him about these issues and other cases that have come to light, and he and I discussed this problem. We are going to have, hopefully, a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on this very issue, the Peace Corps and the relationship it has with its volunteers throughout the world, how to make them safe, how to take care of them once a crime is committed against them and how to take care of them after that crime has been committed against them.
The Peace Corps Director, Mr. Williams, assures me that they are going to develop a victim advocate program and hire a victim advocate. They are going to help these victims of crime get counseling services. They are going to help them medically, even after they have been discharged from the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor has issues in dealing with these Peace Corps volunteers who are no longer in Peace Corps service who still have issues that they need to be taken care of, and the Peace Corps is going to work with the Department of Labor to work out this bureaucratic nonsense.
Every victim, he says, is going to have access to medical counseling and legal services; and when a crime is committed against an American in the Peace Corps overseas, the ambassador of that country is going to contact the highest ranking official in that country to let them know that America wants some results and wants to take care of the victim, but also wants the perpetrator held accountable.
One of the most important things that Director Williams has agreed to do is to set up a victims advocacy program, a victims advocacy advisory board made up of different groups like RAINN and other NGOs to give advice to the Peace Corps on how to take care of victims of crime. So we are not going to let this issue die. We are going to continue to promote and understand the Peace Corps.
But we want these wonderful people in the Peace Corps, who have in the past been harmed and had crimes committed against them, we want to rescue them as a nation. We want to take care of them, and the Director of the Peace Corps says we will go back and help those people. We want to take care of Peace Corps volunteers now that are being assaulted. 22 a year, that is 22 too many. We don’t want it to happen to anybody. But we want to take care of them, and we want to have procedures to make sure the Peace Corps is listening and takes care of victims of crime as well.
You know, Mr. Speaker, I spent most of my life at the court house in Houston. I was a prosecutor and criminal court judge for 30 years. I saw many of these victims of crime. Sexual assault, rape, to me is the worst crime that can be committed against a person. You can understand why people steal; you can understand some crimes. But that crime of sexual assault is a crime not of sex, but a crime of power; but it is also an attempt by the perpetrator to destroy the inner soul of the victim. We need to understand that, and we need to take these people, these victims, these wonderful volunteers of America, and take care of them.
We are doing a better job as a nation in taking care of our wounded warriors in the military, another great group of ambassadors that represents the rest of us. They come home with all kinds of injuries, and we are finally taking care of them. We need to understand that these Peace Corps volunteers are just as precious and take care of them as well.
People cry “peace, peace,” but there can be no peace as long as there is one American Peace Corps volunteer that has no peace.
And that’s just the way it is.
Last month, in our January listings of new books by RPCVs, we listed the 2nd edition of Dillon Banerjee (Cameroon 1994-96) book: The Insider’s Guide to the Peace Corps: What to Know Before You Go, published by Ten Speed Press.
Then yesterday in the mail I got a copy of The Complete Guide to Joining the Peace Corps: What you need to know explained simply. (Real simply!)
It was complied by someone named Sharlee DiMenichi, who wasn’t a PCV, though she taught in China, and it has a short foreword by Shannon Heintz (Kenya 2005-07). On the back of the book, Jennifer Zweigbau (Mauritania 1989-90) writes, “Had this book been around in 1988 when I first joined the Peace Corps, it would have alleviated a lot of the guess-work.” (I don’t think so, Jen.)
This ‘complete guide book’ was mailed to me with a scrap of paper that said it was published by some outfit called Atlantic Publishing Company in Ocala, Florida, No letter. However, it did address me as a ‘book participant’ I could get additional copies at 40% off the retail price (which by the way, for this trade paperback, is $24.95.)
The book quotes from various PCVs who wrote about their experiences in various place (be careful what you say!). Among them are:
Julie Bradley (Belize 1989-91)
John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962-64)
Julia Abigale Johansen (Ukraine 2007-09)
Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962-64)
Mark Kohn (Micronesia 1979-81)
Most of the book, however, is an appendix “Overview of countries of service” that gives information that is totally useless to a Peace Corps applicant or even a tourist. For example, I checked out (naturally) Ethiopia and this is what it had to say about the geography, climate, and population. “Ethiopia is a landlocked country almost twice the size of Texas. The climate is tropical with monsoons and varied terrain. Ethiopians deal with earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, and droughts.” Hello? In fifty years of following the history of Ethiopia I have never heard of any earthquakes or ‘erupting volcanoes. Droughts. Yes. There is more useful information on the Peace Corps website about the country where we serve. But the truth is, given political unrest and global warming, most of the information about host countries will be out of date before Amazon mails you your copy.
Besides all that, there are basic facts about the Peace Corps that are clearly wrong. On the back cover, the publisher claims that there are only 160,000 people who have been in the Peace Corps since 1961. Do the numbers again.
Also on the back cover is the company’ claims that they are, “Your complete resource for small business, management, finance, online, and real estate books. We have a book for that” is their trade mark. Well, when it comes to the Peace Corps, they do have a book, but it is not worth buying.
Charlie Putnam’s (Ecuador 1979-82) daughter went into the Peace Corps this week. Charlie wrote to say that his daughter calls herself a “Peace Corps Brat.” Charlie met his wife in Ecuador in 1980.
This “Peace Corps Putnam Brat went to stating in D.C. this last Monday. The 20/20 stories on the murder of Kate Puzey, the sexual assaults of female volunteers and the interview of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff have all aired as she, and her group, got ready to leave the U.S.
Charlie wrote me, “a number of her friends called her before she left for Staging to ask if she had seen the 20/20 series. In a phone conversation with her mom and me last night our daughter reported that Aaron Williams had attended the Staging and met with the Trainees as part of their security briefing. My daughter didn’t remember exactly what Mr. Williams said, but reported that she was favorably impressed by him.
In an exchange (apparently during the same meeting) Charlie’s daughter commented that she had received numerous calls from friends asking about the 20/20 story. The Staging director asked the Trainees how many of them had had similar experiences. Nearly every hand in the room went up.
Charlie would go onto write me today: “The contribution that those stories made to our anxiety as parents is much less important but may be worth noting. It was bracing, to say the least, to have the feeling that our enthusiasm for Peace Corps service might have led us to put our child in harm’s way to a degree that we were not during our own service. My sense though, having reviewed a number of the contributions to your site, reading the critics’ reports and parts of the Peace Corps response to Congress on a variety of administration issues, is that it is highly misleading to claim that allegedly negligent administrative practices have seriously degraded volunteer security.
“Fallen volunteers should not be the only measure of security, but they do not seem to have spiked. I work at a university and co-direct a study abroad program. A large part of my work job involves various worries about student safety. This afternoon I asked a colleague who has worked in the study abroad field for 15 years with a wide variety of programs what reputation Peace Corps has in her field. She said that study abroad directors still look to Peace Corps as the “gold standard” for assessing the safety of Americans living abroad. With respect to 20/20s report on sexual assault my colleague specifically asked whether Peace Corps’ safety record had been compared to statistics on sexual assaults against all Americans (including students) traveling abroad. Stan Meisler’s comments are further evidence that 20/20 aggregated several types of assaults to get a more dramatic number (which is not to excuse any of the assailants).
I’m no expert on the Peace Corps’ current administrative practices, but I do fear that the effort to conflate the debate about those practices with the agency’s safety record is not helpful to the goal that the agency and its worst critics share: to attract qualified volunteers to serve in the field.
You are welcome to share, John, any of this with or without attribution if you have a way to use it to make the point that new PCVs know enough about the context they are going into and know how to ask serious questions about security issues.
Thanks again for your courtesy and the very useful blog site you and Marian Beil have built.”
Thank you, Charlie, and we wish the very best for your daughter. I hope you get a chance to visit her site and give her the opportunity to tell you all of her Peace Corps stories!
About John Coyne Babbles
John Coyne Babbles is a collection of comments, opinions, musings, and outrages from this RPCV who served with the first group (1962-64) in Ethiopia.
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