Over the last couple months, the Peace Corps has hit the news cycle multiple times . First was the announcement of the changing application process. Basically applicants can now pick where they go, and I’m sure I will post something about that topic soon. But what really hit home for me was a New York Times article that ran on July 26, 2014, investigating the death of a Peace Corps Volunteer in China and the medical missteps behind it. You can read about here.
I feel the article was well written, and does point out issues that Peace Corps faces in large developing countries concerning volunteer medical care. It has sparked a conversation among us volunteers and even Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, (link to one article here) , as to how this could have happened, is Peace Corps worth the risk, and the big question “Could this have happened to me?”
The NYT article hits on important truths – PC is a large imperfect organization, with lots of room for improvement. Due to its size, each post operates slightly differently, according to the medical situation in that particular country. I can’t speak for others , but I can speak to my own experience…
As a Volunteer, I have never felt that my health has come second to anything. The Peace Corps medical officers (PCMOs) have been incredibly professional and always available. We receive a large medical handbook on arrival that details every possible first aid scenario, and instructions on when to call the PCMO. We receive a large med kit on arrival as well, chock a block full of everything we could ever need. I’m lucky that except for a mild case of food poisoning, the few interactions I have had with the PC Medical has been overly positive. One of my first couple of weeks at site, I was called up by a PCMO, asking if I could take some oral rehydration salts to my sick sitemate, so she would have enough over the weekend. Its this and other interactions that I’m incredibly grateful for. At site, I’m incredibly far out of the so-called ‘golden hour’ of decent medical care. A decent hospital is an hour away by plane or 30+ drive on an unpaved road. We are hella isolated out here. Yet, I feel all the precautions that could be taken concerning our care, have been taken.
Could we say that an incident would never happen here ? Of course not. The unexpected happens. Even in the States they happen. If we didn’t have a sense of the risk, we wouldn’t be prepared Peace Corps volunteers. Yet, to quote the article “No one joins Peace Corps to die” .
But reading about Nicholas Castle, the focus of the article, is also to read about his drive and commitment to what Peace Corps stands for. If anything, it makes me more determined in my own service and make it worth it. John F. Kennedy, the progenitor of the Peace Corps idea, was quoted about ‘corpsman” that have passed:
“There have been Peace Corpsmen who have died already in the service of their country and, in a larger sense, in the service of peace and the service of all people … and, I suppose that through the hazards of fate, living as these young men and women do on the horizon of experience, that others will find themselves giving up their lives. I can imagine, if that must come, no cause – the cause of peace – that is more worthy of that kind of contribution.”
In other news, tomorrow is Site Announcements. The exciting day where a year ago we were told where we were going to be living for the next two years. Now that I’m on the other side, it means I will find out who my new sitemates are going to be for the next year out of this new training group. A week later they will swear in as volunteers . I hope they are as excited about this as I am! Hopefully they like me 🙂 .