Peace Corps volunteers return home

The Peace Corps has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as all volunteers around the globe are being sent home.

The Peace Corps has taken several preventative measures for its volunteers in light of the spread of coronavirus around the world. In an open letter to all Peace Corps volunteers, Director Jody Olsen announced on March 15 several of the changes to the Peace Corps following the escalation of coronavirus. She said all volunteers around the globe are being returned home.

“It is against this backdrop that I have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend all Peace Corps operations globally and evacuate all of our volunteers,” Olsen said. 

Peace Corps staff at the headquarters in Washington D.C. are remaining open 24/7 to provide support to those who need it. Olsen said these are only temporary evacuations until conditions improve. Posts are not being permanently closed and positions will not be lost.

The Peace Corps recommends for volunteers returning home to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

Ryan Warren, alumni of Southeast Missouri State University, was serving in the Peace Corps when the coronavirus pandemic started. She had been serving in the European country of Moldova since June 5, 2019. Warren was already planning on coming home before the mass evacuation was ordered, as Moldova ordered an evacuation two days prior to the announcement. 

Warren said it has been difficult for all the volunteers to get back home because of travel bans taking place. 

“The Peace Corps has done a really good job of making sure it’s safe and getting everyone where they need to be,” Warren said. 

Warren said anyone who is interested in joining the Peace Corps should do their research. She said this situation is a good look at how they will treat volunteers in an emergency situation.

“How the country directors, how the country staff worked with volunteers and helped volunteers says a lot about the character and morale of the Peace Corps,” Warren said.

Madeleine Duncan was also a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Moldova. She was stationed there from June 2019 to August 2021, but has now been evacuated. Duncan said Moldova closed all schools after the first coronavirus case was reported. She was stationed as an education volunteer, so she was unable to reach her students and community.

Duncan said when volunteers were first being evacuated, they were considered interrupted service. She said this only happens when there is reason to evacuate, such as the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014. The situation then escalated, and all volunteers are now considered closed of service, which provides less benefits than interrupted service. 

Duncan said she thinks the Peace Corps could have handled the situation better. While she does agree that all volunteers had to be evacuated, she thinks it could have been done gradually. Duncan also thinks volunteers should have the option to be considered interrupted service instead of close of service.

“We cannot claim to know exactly how the decision was made at Peace Corps headquarters, as they were attempting to evacuate all 7,200+ volunteers,” Duncan said. “But they should be taking the time to make collected, well thought out decisions instead of what seems to be last minute reactive decisions.”

Before the Peace Corps evacuated all its volunteers, they announced the highest ranking schools within the organization. Truman State University ranked 19 on the list of medium sized schools. 238 Truman alumni have served in the Peace Corps, with 18 currently volunteering.

Damian Chavez graduated from Truman in 2014 and started serving in Armenia in 2018. Chavez said he is not super impressed with Truman’s national ranking. 

“I say that as someone who loves Truman. I loved my time there, and I’m a big fan of Truman now,” Chavez said. 

Chavez said he thinks the Peace Corps is another opportunity to be distinct from other schools. He said being able to send members to the Peace Corps at such a high level is just another way for Truman to be different.

“My challenge to Truman would be to try to make it to the Top 10 of the middle sized schools within a few years,” Chavez said. 

Chavez said the Peace Corps is a great opportunity to develop as a person. He said it gives you the ability to immerse yourself in a completely new culture. Chavez said he thinks there are two sides to the Peace Corps: the personal impacts and the big scale impacts. It can impact people personally by challenging them and developing them, but it can also promote global peace and friendship on a global scale.