Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Safety and Security

Sometimes I wonder if I neglect to post really negative or challenging parts of my peace corps service. I think I tend to do this for a variety of reasons including personal pride, not wanting to write a blog that is constantly negative or complain-y, not wanting to worry others or cast a negative light on peace corps or El Salvador, the list goes on... Most of my posts recently have focused on some very special and fun moments in my service making it seem like life here is a walk in the park. However, that is an inaccurate portrayal of life in El Salvador. There are many challenges in this country on a daily basis for us volunteers. One of the more serious challenges (that we sometimes ignore because we are young and naive - yes I will admit it we sometimes have "invincibility syndrome") is our overall safety and security.

El Salvador was recently listed as the "most dangerous country in the world" by the Geneva Convention based on the number of lethal deaths per 100,000 people. You can read more about it here: http://www.genevadeclaration.org/fileadmin/docs/GBAV2/GBAV2011-Ch2-Summary.pdf.

In this file you will find that we are listed right above Iraq, which definitely says a lot. Now I think it is important to note that here in El Salvador, Americans, luckily, are not generally the targets of there "lethal deaths," but still the violence is here. You should also note the number of Latin American countries ranked high on the list. This makes our region of the world incredibly dangerous.

There have been a number of serious crimes against volunteers (and other people as well) in our region lately most specifically here in El Salvador, in Honduras, and Guatemala. As a result, our little threesome is undergoing a lot of scrutiny. This past week we received an email with the following information:

"Due to ongoing safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has made the difficult decision to implement some important changes to its Volunteer program in Central America – specifically Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. As many of you are aware, there have been several incidents in recent months across all three posts that threatened the personal safety of individual Volunteers. Consequently we are immediately implementing a series of actions to help mitigate safety and security risks. Initially we will suspend the arrival of the new training group in January 2012. In doing so, we are asking staff to redirect its energies to reinforcing the current safety and security systems in place and to implementing additional measures in support of the recent policy shifts regarding family home stays and travel.

In the coming weeks, we will be announcing additional actions as we continue our analysis of the operating environment in Central America. Please rest assured that we are taking these initial measures precisely because the safety and security of our Volunteers is the agency’s highest priority. Our staff in Washington will be working to provide all of you with the support you may need."

What does this mean? Good question! We would all like to know. All of us volunteers are confused and gossi
ping amongst each other about what is going to happen. Are we going home? Are we moving countries? Are we going to have to change sites? Deal with new rules? There are so many questions and very few answers. As of now we are just waiting to hear the future of peace corps in El Salvador.

My o
pinion, you ask? Well fortunately for me I feel so safe in my site. I live so far away from everything that I never feel at risk. But there have been a number of cases recently of things happening in "tranquilo" sites that I am not sure anymore. In addition, I always feel on edge whenever I have to leave my site. Yes, I do often feel unsafe here that is true and a number of my friends here have unsafe sites or travel a lot more than me, which makes me worry for them. Therefore, I agree with Washington mandating some changes take place. This country is unsafe and we should do something to make volunteers safer. But at the same time if they are going to mandate us never to travel or make serious restrictions on our daily lives, I am not sure that that is the kind of service I want to have. I don't want to be in a country where I can't go anywhere or do anything. In that case, I think I would rather have a new assignment in a safer country. But do I want to leave El Salvador and change countries? Ouch. Not really. The idea of changing countries and going through adjustment all over again just sounds terrible. Also, I love my community, I love the people here, I love my fellow volunteers here, and I don't want to leave any of them.

As you can see this is a com
plicated opinion and I am just one person. Therefore, I realize that this is going to take some time to get all figured out. I guess we just have to be patient in this vague limbo-land.

In the meantime, I would just like to
post a hopeful message for my second home. I hope that the future of El Salvador (and all of Latin America) is more peaceful and safe for all to live, work, and visit. Because it truly is a special little country. And it deserves a bright future.

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