Father of the PCV

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!

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