As many of you did, I watched the ABC 20/20 program last Friday night that included a segment entitled “Scandal Inside the Peace Corps: Investigation into whether the Peace Corps puts women into dangerous situations.” I felt a great deal of sympathy for those involved – Katie Puzey, who was murdered March 12, 2009 in Benin, her family, and the RPCV women who stepped forward to tell their stories of being attacked while serving overseas.
And to see Katie smiling out from the past in a homemade video shot by her cousin who visited her site only months before the brutal murder was breathtakingly sad.
I also felt very sorry for the Peace Corps’ new deputy director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, who endured endless 20/20 questions: “What did the Peace Corps Administration know? When did they know it?” Carrie was unable or unwilling to answer anything. It appeared by the end of the long interrogation that the Peace Corps Deputy Director was a woman who had been left to hang out to dry by the agency. I know Carrie was interviewed for two hours, but only snippets of her answers made it to the final edit. Nowhere was it mentioned that Carrie, too, had served as a Peace Corps Volunteer, or that she has devoted her life to raising a family while working internationally in the non-profit world.
The Deputy Director has a difficult job, but unlike others top administrators of the agency, she stepped forward to be interviewed about events and circumstances that took place 15 months before she was appointed to the position. She played the best hand she could.
Indeed, this wasn’t Carrie’s finest moment with the Peace Corps. Nor has the handling of Katie Puzey’s murder been the finest hour for the agency.
The Peace Corps screwed up in Benin, and in Washington, D.C (both in handling Katie’s murder and in handling this interview). It isn’t the first time the Peace Corps has screwed up administratively, as well we know from our own experiences, and it certainly won’t be the last. But what is most troubling is that a PCV died because of the carelessness of agency employees who were responsible for her wellbeing.
Let me also say – and all of us RPCVs know – that, in the Peace Corps, Volunteers are for the most part on their own. It is what the Peace Corps is all about. We live with the host country nationals, obeying the rules and regulations and customs of the host country. It is not easy. And at times, as it was in Benin, it can be dangerous and deadly. That is why being a Peace Corps Volunteer is the toughest job you’ll ever have – and at times it is without the love.[End of Part One]