I don’t know how many people have seen the recent 20/20 show about safety and security issues in the Peace Corps. If you haven’t, I’m sure there’s plenty of information on the Internet. Not having seen the piece myself, the gist I have of it is that they were reporting on some instances where women were sexually assaulted and the Peace Corps either ignored warning signs or covered up information after the fact. I do not personally know anything about these cases or the staff of the Peace Corps in those countries so I cannot make any comments about those cases. I can, however, comment about our safety and security experiences here in Vanuatu.
From talking to multiple current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers it seems that the safety and security can depend on the staff members who deal with problems as they come up. Gaea and I have had more opportunity than we would like to test the system of support here in Vanuatu, though fortunately for us it has all been us getting involved with other peoples’ situations rather than having our own per se. The support staff here has been nothing short of amazing. When Gaea ended up giving the young boy CPR on the way back from Epi our medical officer picked us up at the airport and our Country Director and Assistant Country Director met us at the office. We were put up in a hotel and were very well taken care of. I will be posting another incident where a nearby volunteer was raped. We talked to some of our support staff when we found out about it and the level of support they brought to bear through non-official channels and in their off time for a non-Peace Corps Volunteer was simply amazing. The Country Director was strongly considering whether to leave us at site because of this incident and may have if the community had not been as phenomenally supportive of the other volunteer. I am personally on the Safety and Security Committee and know how seriously our Safety and Security Officer takes our reports of any incidents. During training we have been specifically instructed to report everything and I know it will be taken seriously. In talking to us about the 20/20 report, our Country Director assured us that both he and the Assistant Country Director keep the phone numbers of boats and even helicopters all the time in case they should deem it necessary to pull a volunteer in trouble. Our staff will take incredibly good care of us no matter what.
Beyond the Peace Corps staff, our community has been incredibly supportive in the wake of the rape which happened at the end of November. I can’t count the number of people who made a point of telling us how horrible it was, that the boys deserved to be punished severely, and not to mention that if anyone tried that on Gaea she would beat the crap out of them. When it happened, the entire area put on a massive search for the boys and found them quickly. They proceeded to give the biggest fine that our Safety and Security Officer had heard of for a rape and told Katie that if she decided to go to the police (and they thought she should) she would have the full support of the chiefs. Gaea is also treated by all the young men of the community as though she were their little sister and are quite protective of their peace corps. The community is looking out for us too.
I also want to remind everyone that these kinds of incidents can happen anywhere and Vanuatu’s crime rate is much less than Minneapolis. Overall, Gaea and I feel very, very safe here. We are obviously avoiding unnecessary risks and keeping aware as much as we can. Some of this Gaea has stated in her post about the rape but I felt it important to expand on and make sure that people are not worrying unduly about our safety.
Love you all!