Thursday, January 19, 2012

Peace Corps Returns to Nepal; Withdraws from Honduras Without a Splash

Logo of the United States Peace Corps.                           Image via WikipediaOn January 17, the US Embassy in Kathmandu announced the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal after a seven year absence.  The announcement coincided with an event hosted by Prime Minister Bhattarai at his office in Singha Durbar and by Ambassador DeLisi at his residence. According to the embassy, the first group of approximately 20 Peace Corps volunteers is scheduled to arrive in Nepal later this year:

"The U.S. Agency for International Development’s collaboration with Peace Corps will build on the strengths and strategies of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives partnership with Nepal to reach and impact many more vulnerable Nepalese across the country.  The volunteers will be trained as Agriculture and Nutrition Extensionists and will work with rural communities to improve food security and health of the Nepalese people in the context of the two Presidential Initiatives in Nepal."
The photos from the two events can be found at Flickr.  See also the embassy statement, and the Peace Corps announcement.

The bigger news, of course was the withdrawal of the Peace Corps from Honduras this week.  On January 16, the Peace Corps pulled out all volunteers from Honduras.  According to CBS, neither U.S. nor Honduran officials have said what specifically prompted them to withdraw the 158 Peace Corps volunteers. The report also notes that this is the first time Peace Corps mission have been withdrawn from Central America since civil wars swept the region in the 1970s and 1980s.

On December 21, Peace Corps released the following statement:
The Peace Corps is conducting an ongoing review of the security environment in Honduras, and has cancelled its next volunteer training class while this review is being conducted.

All 158 currently serving volunteers are safe and accounted for and will participate in a conference in January before returning to the United States on administrative leave. Peace Corps will review the safety and security climate in Honduras before continuing with volunteer operations.

“The safety and security of all Peace Corps volunteers is the agency’s highest priority,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “During this time, we are going to conduct a full review of the program. We thank the people of Honduras for their strong support of Peace Corps over the years.”

But unlike the return of the Peace Corps to Nepal, one can't really tell what's going on if you look up US Embassy Honduras or the Peace Corps Honduras website.  Both are also on Facebook. Ambassador Kubiske herself is on Twitter. But nowhere is the departure of the Peace Corps volunteers mentioned, not even in warden messages to American citizens. Go ahead, take a look:

Peace Corps media arm has statements on a Peace Corps volunteer building a new clinic in Cameroon, on the Peace Corps return to Nepal, and PCVs leading 4 spelling bees in Armenia the last week alone, but absolutely nothing on the withdrawal of its volunteers from Honduras.

It's like if you don't mention it, it did not happen ....

According to CBS, on Jan. 24, 2011, a Peace Corps volunteer was robbed and raped near the village of Duyure in southern Honduras. Three men were reportedly found guilty of rape and robbery in that case, according to an employee of the regional court in the southern city of Choluteca who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

An entry in Peace Corps journals indicates that one of the volunteers in Honduras was also shot in an assault on a bus in early December.  After the announcement that Peace Corps was suspending Honduras’ February 2012 training group, a PCV notes:
"It has been two weeks since one of our volunteers here was shot in an assault on a bus, and this is the first e-mail that we have receive that really says anything. After two weeks of all of us volunteers e-mailing, texting, and calling each other talking about how we thought Peace Corps Honduras handled the situation with the injured volunteer, and what we thought was going to come of it all, it is nice to see some action being taken."
As the incident was called "a tragic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time," another PCV reacts:
"Where my problem comes in with all of this, in my opinion, is the fact that Peace Corps is treating this incident as if the volunteer had been in a car accident or something more along those lines - something that was completely out of Peace Corps or Honduras‘s control. But, no, she was on a bus… this is a matter of Honduras being the most dangerous country in the world (that is not currently in a war), but it is as if Peace Corps Honduras doesn’t want to own up to that. In one of the e-mials, admin said “If we learn anything that would result in a need to change policy or travel guidance we will communicate that straight away.” So, as a result of this accident, their response is that they might just need to make another policy change. It seems to me that this is their response to everything - make another rule or policy change that will help to avoid situations like this in the future, but for this particular incident, I don’t think there is really anything that can be done. People have to travel in and out of San Pedro Sula and/or La Esperanza. There is no way to avoid that - we already have been instructed to make sure and not travel at night, especially in and out of San Pedro or Tegus, and this volunteer was certainly not - it was noon on a Sunday.

To make this situation worse, it was brought to volunteers attention the following day that there had actually been two other assaults on the same bus company over that week - but Peace Corps had not informed any volunteers of these incidents.
So statements and photos about the Peace Corps returning to Nepal when the first batch of volunteers are not even getting there until later this year, but nothing on the Peace Corps leaving Honduras when the departure of the 158 volunteers already occurred. Ow...

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