Peace Corps Volunteers serve worldwide, in countries with different cultures, languages, food and resources. As the New York Times points out, operating in these varying environments presents unique challenges that the Peace Corps faces each and every day.
The majority of Peace Corps Volunteers have a safe and productive volunteer experience that they cherish for the rest of their lives. While the Peace Corps has not been immune to tragedy over the years, the number of Volunteers who have died during service throughout the agency’s more than 50-year history is incredibly small – less than two-tenths of one percent.
Still, one death is one too many. Each one of these losses is personal – they are someone’s daughter or son, brother or sister, friend or loved one. We grieve for each and every one of them, including Nick Castle. We grieve because the loss of a Volunteer is also a tragic event for the entire Peace Corps family – from that Volunteer’s Country Director to their Medical Officer to Returned Volunteers across the globe. And as part of our commitment to honor the memory of these individuals, the Peace Corps is dedicated to doing everything it can, every single day, to protect the health, safety and security of our Volunteers.
The agency has focused intensely on improving the quality of support to Volunteers over the last few years, particularly when it comes to health care, safety and security, and programming and training. It’s all part of an ongoing, agency-wide reform effort spearheaded by Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet.
We have enacted measures to strengthen the delivery of health services and given Volunteers who have concerns, comments or questions about their healthcare a direct line to medical professionals at Peace Corps headquarters. And we have established a Health Care Quality Assurance Council to oversee, monitor and report on the quality of Peace Corps health services.
In the aftermath of a Volunteer death or major illness, the agency goes to great lengths to ensure that the emergency response is managed with the utmost sensitivity and respect for both the Volunteer and the Volunteer’s loved ones. Each case also invites reflection and introspection to determine what we can learn, so we can build a stronger, more effective Peace Corps.
We have trained Volunteers to better assess situations to keep themselves and each other safe, and created an Office of Victim Advocacy to support Volunteers who become victims of crime.
Today, the Peace Corps is not just a chance to make a difference but also a training ground and launching pad for a 21st century career. Volunteers gain cross-cultural, leadership and language skills that strengthen international ties and increase our country’s global competitiveness. But we know this can’t be possible without exemplary training and the highest quality programming for our Volunteers. One of our most important new initiatives is our Focus-In Train-Up strategy, which dramatically strengthens the quality of our technical training and program support for Volunteers. Peace Corps is also partnering with host governments, universities, NGOs and donors to ensure that our Volunteers are focusing on those projects that are wanted by their communities and have proven, through evidence, to be most effective at achieving development results. We are monitoring and evaluating our efforts so we can gauge the impact of our work. By giving Volunteers the training, tools and experience they need, they will increase impact today in their host communities, while becoming the next generation of American global leaders for tomorrow.
These are just some of the widespread changes we’ve made to continue to strengthen the Peace Corps today. We’re proud that the percentage of Volunteers who leave their service early, whether it’s due to medical, safety and security, or dissatisfaction with their assignment, is the lowest in the agency’s history. And while some reforms have brought immediate impact, others take time. But what we know definitively is that the Peace Corps has undergone nothing short of a complete culture change, and the agency’s approach is more Volunteer-centered than ever before, every step of the way.
As we move forward, our charge is to forge a modern-day Peace Corps that bridges our founding ideals with today’s realities. From boosting Volunteer support to enhancing training to revitalizing recruitment, the Peace Corps is more ready than ever to meet the needs of our country and our world.
Nothing is more important to the Peace Corps than our Volunteers, and though we can never fully overcome the fundamental challenges of operating abroad, we will never stop pushing the limit to try.
We’re changing the Peace Corps for the better, and we’re committed to doing it right.