Zhan Yimei, who was a beloved and long-time employee in the Peace Corps office in China, died after a battle with lung cancer. She had worked since 1993 for the Peace Corps and was a staff member with enormous responsibilities, serving as the main conduit of messages between Chinese officials and the Peace Corps. (In many instances, at least in the early days, Chinese officials refused to communicate directly with the Peace Corps.) She also played a key role in drafting the country agreement that enabled Peace Corps to go into that country, which was one of the few positives attached to President Bill Clinton’s visit in 1998. She ran the program for a year in 2003-04, when the Peace Corps was evacuated because of SARS. There was no American who worked for Peace Corps/China as long as Zhan Yimei did.
Zhan Yimei lacked the benefit of Peace Corps health insurance – none of the Chinese staff could qualify for that. Her cancer treatment was enormously expensive, cost her family dearly, and has delayed her son’s education. Last year the RPCV China group raised $14,000 to be donated for her care, and they are currently raising additional of funds. Her family faces a shortfall of more than $12,000. Thus far, Peace Corps Washington has contributed nothing, which annoys me. While it’s great that former volunteers are willing to raise funds, it seems inappropriate for her employer to offer no financial assistance. It’s a young program, so most RPCV’s are in their twenties and thirties; it’s hard for them to donate much. And when Zhan Yimei passed away, her main concern was about the debt she was leaving her family. It seems a shame that the Peace Corps did not take greater steps to put her at ease during her final months, but if you are interestedin contributing funds to pay for the ‘shortfall’ let me know.