Agency News

The road to building a better, stronger Peace Corps

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.



Categories: Agency News

10 replies »

  1. Of course, it is wonderful that so many people have had great experiences. However, that isn’t the case for everyone. I was lied to by the Peace Corps doctors and suffered serious, long-term health problems as a result. My concerns, which should have been a clear warning sign, were said to be “because I missed my boyfriend.” I got good care while I was on medevac in DC, but when I had problems after that, I couldn’t get a shred of help from the Peace Corps. I’ve heard from a lot of other volunteers who got similar treatment or worse. Without a doubt, the Peace Corps is finally working to fix some of the problems, and that’s fantastic. However, there are so many serious problems that still remain. This post gives the impression that everything is just fine now. It isn’t, and admitting that there is still a huge problem would be a big step in the right direction.

  2. I have read the tragic stories and replies concerning the NYT articles and I am really sad for all those folks involved. I was also surprised at some of the negative things some volunteers had faced during their service. In complete contrast, my experience was wonderful and the Peace Corps staff were incredibly supportive. I served in Ukraine (2001-13) and was blown away with the professionalism, care, and absolute kindness we were all shown. In fact, I love the Peace Corps so much I am returning next March. I hope the changes happening in the administration will address each and every concern. I wish for every volunteer to have as rewarding experience as I have had.

  3. I hope this is an eye opener on serious reforms that are needed in the organization. The entire structure of the Peace Corps is a disaster waiting to happen. And in this case it did. The coming and going of CDs on a regular basis, who are often in the position simply as a carrier stepping stone leaves a huge hole in the management of Host Country Nationals (HCNs) employed by the organization. Cameroon was a complete disaster. Corruption, theft, unqualified staff, and a non-concern for volunteers was strangely the norm among the HCNs employed by the organization in Cameroon. Many of whom had already been employed for well over 10 years with the organization and salaries that were as much as 50 times what they would earn in a similar position in their own government or ministers office. While there were many HCNs that were great and did a great job and had the passion that Peace Corps invokes, they never received recognition or promotion. The lack of involving volunteers in the overall management and direction of the organization only further supports this insignificance of the volunteer. I know the organization hires many RPCV, but normally only 15-20 years after the service. This creates a massive gap between the volunteers and the American support staff. Why do so many other international organizations hire RPCVs just after their service, but not the Peace Corps? At my close of service interview, I mentioned those HCNs that were awesome and deserved recognition, I also mentioned those that could care less about the volunteers. I suggested some simple reforms and ways to consider volunteers as a Client (thus why you get a pay check). This was all to a CD that could not even remember my name, let alone what village I was working in. So as you can imagine nothing came of it.

    I stayed in Cameroon for several years after my service managing an international agriculture firm. I kept a strong line with my APCD who incorporated my VSLA pilot project into the SED training. I gave some training to new volunteers and also kept touch with some of the great staff of the Organization and still do. It has now been six years since my exit interview and one CD later, and guess which HCNs are still around?? Not those that would be if PC was run like any other organization in the world.

  4. Reblogged this on Rictandag's Blog and commented:
    thanks for this. Peace Corps experience is not without risk. More than 35 years later, I am still dealing & healing from my own tour of duty, which resulted in an early medical termination after about 23 months.
    i cherish being a volunteer and as the years go by, the “fraternity” of retuned volunteers and what learned & shared while overseas provide me with more & more every day. Part me will always remain in Tandag – invariably the best part; and sharing Tandag at home brings the essence of my values and aspirations back home & back to me.