I have not blogged much about strictly Peace Corps related information because ever since receiving my invitation there has not been much to report. After receiving an invitation there is not much communication between Peace Corps and the invitee until staging information is sent about a month or so before departure. Well it turns out yesterday I received my first correspondence (since sending in my Aspiration Statement and Resume a week after receiving my invitation) with my country desk and my country director.
The information included in the email contained the typical welcome to the Peace Corps El Salvador edition, introductions like "Hi, I am your country director," and information to send to our families about sustaining contact during our service. There was also information regarding our one day staging event in Washington, D.C. on July 19th with my 18 new friends (other volunteers). It seems more information will come 3 weeks prior to departure about booking flights, etc.
But the most important piece of information in this string of emails was that Peace Corps El Salvador has made a significant change to the housing policy for all future volunteers. It seems that it will be REQUIRED that all volunteers live with a host family for their ENTIRE service not just through training and the first three months of service in site. Here is the email reasoning verbatim:
"Although living with a family has certain challenges (lack of privacy, a different diet, noise, etc.)
it also has multiple rewards community integration, increase language skills, friendship,
sharing, and gaining a unique understanding of the Salvadoran culture. The experience of
sharing day-to-day life with a Salvadoran family will hasten your cultural adaption, better
facilitate the community connections needed for your work and help you to truly understand,
appreciate and *live* the lifestyle of Salvadoran families. Not least of all, your personal safety
will be enhanced when the community views you as a part of a local family."
I have a few guesses as to why the Peace Corps is instituting this new policy. Number one on the list is all the media attention on the Peace Corps recently about ignoring the safety and security of its volunteers (particularly those of the female gender). Does a certain prime time special on rape come to mind? Trust me I cannot go through an entire conversation with someone about my future plans without the token "Do you know what happens to the women over there?" or "Have you seen the news about the women being raped in the Peace Corps?" Yes. Thank you. I know. And frankly, I don't want to hear about it any more. NEWS FLASH: This stuff happens everywhere. It happens all the time. And I am not going to stop living my life because of it. And just because I am a woman does not mean that I should not do the Peace Corps. Rant over. Thanks.
I trust that the Peace Corps in El Salvador is doing this because they feel it will truly enhance our safety. As a future volunteer I have to respect that and trust that the Peace Corps is making the best decision for my safety, which will only work to enhance my experience and effectiveness. Although, I do have to admit that at first I was a little upset about this new requirement. Living with a host family, while rewarding and safe, is also really, really challenging in terms of personal space, which I now feel is going to be one of my bigger battles. But at least I will never be lonely. And my Spanish will only get better faster. Of course with anything there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both sides. But in reality there is nothing I can do about the situation. I will be living with a host family and that decision has been made. All I can do is accept that, embrace the advantages, work through the disadvantages, and be the best volunteer I can be through all of that.
I wonder if other countries are doing this too? I am sure all the media attention, budget issues, and government readjusting is making all the countries reevaluate policies. And hopefully this just makes Peace Corps bigger and better in the long run.
Post Script: In honor of my Bonnaroo trip coming up today I am loving Iron & Wine.