Major Changes in Peace Corps Guatemala

Some of the following information has been floating around CNN and other news sources for the past month or two, but as I promised, here is an update from my perspective, position, and understanding of the current situation Peace Corps and its volunteers in Guatemala are facing. I have hesitated to post this chapter because I did not want to make people at home worry. I will try to be as clear and straightforward as possible, but please keep in mind as you read that I personally feel very safe and that most of the problems being discussed do not occur near where I am located and, when I am traveling, the “hot zones” are generally avoidable.

From a PCV standpoint, the events leading up to the changes:

In the middle of December, all PCVs were notified that Peace Corps Honduras was temporarily suspending all programs and sending volunteers home in January for an initial month in order to reassess the security situation of the country to see whether it is safe for PCVs to continue serving there. We were also informed that the groups of PC trainees that were supposed to arrive in both Guatemala (about 50 PCTs) and El Salvador at the beginning of January were no longer going to come. We were told that PC Guatemala, PC El Salvador, and PC Belize were all “under review.” This news stirred a bit of anxiety among the PCV population as we all knew that there would be many changes on the horizon, although we didn’t know exactly what those changes would be…

During the first week of January, just as I returned to Guatemala after vacation, we all received a letter from our Country Director offering every current volunteer the option to IS, or take an Interrupted Service, if they personally felt that continuing service in Guatemala would pose a threat to their personal safety and security. Opting for the IS basically means that a volunteer has to withdraw from their country of service for “reasons beyond his or her control” before formally completing their service. Those who IS receive the status and most of the benefits (which will be discussed later) of being an RPCV, or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Within two weeks of that letter, we were notified of the upcoming changes PC Guatemala was about to make, including sending some volunteers home early and displacing other volunteers whose sites were deemed to be in “unsafe” areas. We were also all called to an impromptu 3-day All Volunteer Conference during which the people in charge of PC Guatemala could explain why the decision was made to implement these changes.

Besides volunteers, the attendance at the conference included the majority of PC staff in Guatemala, PC trainers, two or three counselors, the Director of Programming and Training, Craig Badger, and the Country Director, Martha Keays. In addition to that, several people from Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C., including Deputy Associate Director for Global Operations at Peace Corps, Peter Redmond, and Peace Corps Regional Director (Inter American and Pacific), Carlos Torres, played a huge part in the conference in that they communicated to us the bigger picture and a little bit about what is going on behind the scenes and how PC Guatemala reached the decisions they have made. A synopsis of the situation follows.

What is the safety and security situation in PC Central America?

There is a section of Central America referred to as the “Northern Triangle,” which consists of three countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador; it is considered a relatively dangerous part in the world (active war zones, of course, being the most dangerous countries) due to the elevated crime rates. (Honduras is by far the worst.) From what I have gathered, the main causes of the problems in Central America right now are drugs and poverty. Thanks to the high demand for narcotics in the United States and the lucrative nature of the drug business, drag trafficking and all the problems that come with it have become extremely prevalent in Central America. (Colombia, near the top of South America, is generally known as the “home base” for drugs, especially cocaine; the routes traverse from there up through the seven Central American countries and Mexico into the States.)

Bus assaults in all of these countries have also been problematic and have unfortunately become an almost everyday occurrence in some countries in this area. I have briefly mentioned these in previous posts, but to sum it up, a typical bus assault is an armed robbery on public transportation. It usually involves two men with weapons who tell everyone to give them all their stuff; a typical assault may last 10-15 minutes during which the offenders quickly search all purses, backpacks, bags, and pockets for money, credit cards, and valuables. We have been trained to hand everything over, avoid eye contact, and not make a scene. Most of the time, the robberies are harmless; only when a passenger has turned a weapon on the offenders do things get out of control.

In the past several months, there have been a handful of “serious incidents” reported involving PCVs in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize which has led the guys in charge in Washington, D.C. to assess the situations in these countries and make some changes. In Honduras, the incident was that a female PCV got shot in the leg when caught in the crossfire between a passenger and an assailant during a bus assault on a camioneta (chicken bus). In Guatemala, six female PCVs were all robbed during a bus assault that occurred in Guatemala City at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. (They were headed back to their sites after returning from Río Dulce and Lívingston.) In Belize, a male PCV was the victim of an armed robbery where he lived.

The statistic for Guatemala is that an average of 10% of all PCVs who reach their Close-of-Service (COS) and complete 27 months in country have experienced a serious crime during their service. The guys at Headquarters are not pleased with this little tidbit. And so the changes commence…

A note on the new presidency in Guatemala:

On January 15, Guatemala witnessed the presidential inauguration of Otto Pérez Molina and the regime of partido patriota (the Patriot Party) began. This political party seems very well organized and has a lot of support. One should note, though, that Otto Pérez Molina has an extensive military background and was a General during the civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996. (He was on the side against the indigenous people, but the war is over now, so what does it matter, right?) In any case, with the change of government, our Safety and Security Coordinator (SSC), David Castillo, has been monitoring the state of affairs under the new administration in order to make sure PCVs stay safe in the country.

In addition to Pérez Molina’s talk of the possibility of legalizing drugs in Guatemala, there is one big action that the new president is about to take that will certainly affect some volunteers. He is about to place the department of San Marcos (which borders the Pacific Ocean and Mexico) under a State of Siege in order to buckle down and gain some sort of control over the drug trafficking problem in that area. A State of Siege means that the military takes over the jurisdiction of the entire department and can detain any person without warning or reason—meaning civil rights are out the window. If a PCV gets detained, there would be no guarantee that the US could protect him or get his rights instilled for several days. That is a risk that PC is not willing to take, and so all the PCVs living in San Marcos right now are being displaced and the department is now “off-limits” for travel to all PCVs.

Are volunteers and foreigners the ones being targeted?

No. The incidents that have occurred against PCVs were not pre-planned against foreigners. It has simply been a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. When I swore in in July, there were approximately 270 PCVs in country. The sheer number of us increases the risk factor against a PCV. PC is taking steps to reduce the number of volunteers floating around the country.

The drug trafficking incidents in Guatemala occur mainly along the borders of the surrounding countries (Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, & [barely] Belize), in the capital, Guatemala City, and along two major routes that run through the northern part of the country into Mexico (through the huge department of the Petén, which has been “off-limits” to PCVs since before I arrived in Guatemala). The majority of reported incidents that involved PCVs have occurred in Guatemala City.

Bus assaults and robberies usually take place on public transportation, and most frequently just outside of Guatemala City. PCVs are not allowed to go to Guatemala City without special permission, and PC is setting up a private transport system for PCVs to get around to certain places in the country now in order to get us off public transportation in the problematic areas. There are also private shuttles from travel agencies that PCVs and tourists often use for big trips, as well as taxis that are all very safe.

As far as tourists go, they generally tend to only be targets of petty crimes such as pick pocketing, and it usually happens in more of a crowded atmosphere. Most of the tourists/foreigners I have encountered don’t even know about bus assaults and drug-related crimes because they don’t frequent the “hot zones” and they generally can afford to take taxis or private shuttles that keep them off the public transportation systems in the cities.

What are the options that PC considers in regards to protecting volunteers in these countries?

Option A: In Country Management.

Option B: Mandatory Administrative Hold in the U.S.; Select Return.

Option C: Immediate Suspension.

When a country in which PC is working reaches the point of a required security reassessment, the guys in charge decide which of the three options listed above is appropriate. For Honduras, they chose Option B which means everything in the country in regards to PC progress is paused. All the PCVs from Honduras are currently home in the United States waiting to hear if they will be allowed to continue their service. I suspect that many volunteers will decide not to return to Honduras even if they are given that opportunity. For Guatemala and El Salvador, Option A was chosen. The details of “in country management” are below.

What is the plan for PC Guatemala?

Peace Corps has served in Guatemala for 49 years straight, since 1963. Even throughout the 36-year civil war, PC has had a presence in this country. The closest PC ever was to getting pulled out was at the height of the civil war in 1982 when the violence was the hottest. The new force that threatens safety and security is drug trafficking; however, there is no intention to terminate the PC program in Guatemala.

In country management is basically a numbers game. As of about a month ago at the All Volunteer Conference, there were 213 PCVs serving in Guatemala. We were informed at the conference that Headquarters wants the number of PCVs down to between 100 and 120, and they want it to drop fast. They are also re-focusing our geographical coverage and consolidating volunteers in the Central Western Highlands of Guatemala. They have taken the following immediate actions with no exceptions:

~All incoming groups of trainees (in five different programs) for Guatemala have been suspended for the entire year of 2012. (Those PC invitees will be assigned different countries in which to serve.)

~All PCVs who were scheduled to complete their 27-month service and COS (close-of-service) in March are being forced to leave by the end of February, one month early.

~ All PCVs who were scheduled to complete their 27-month service and COS in July are being forced to leave by the end of March, four months early.

~All PCVs in the outlying departments to the east and west of the deemed “Central Western Highlands” are being pulled out of their sites and offered either a relocation site or the option to take an Early COS.

~Every single currently-serving PCV, whether they are being displaced or not and no matter how much time they have served, has been given the option to take an Early COS and be out of the country by the end of March. All PCVs must make their final decisions by March 2nd.

What is so great about the option to Early COS?

It’s a free ticket. It documents that a PCV has successfully completed his or her commitment to service—even if the entire time commitment isn’t fulfilled.

There are several ways for a PCV to part with the Peace Corps. First a PCV can decide to ET (Early Termination); Pedro did this is November. When it comes to the benefits for a PCV, an ET is BAD. It basically means that the volunteer quit and thus forfeits the title of RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) and all the good things that come with that (discussed in the next section). The redeemable aspect of this type of separation is that it is in a PCV’s control. Anyone can decide to ET at any time for any reason. Pedro is probably kicking himself right now because he could have received all the benefits if he had held out for two months, but how could he have known that all this was going to happen? (He is actually doing really well back at home with both school and great job offers lined up for him already!)

Another method of parting ways is if PC basically kicks a volunteer out. This can happen in either of two circumstances: medical separation or administrative separation. Med-sep is when PC deems that a PCV is in too dire condition to continue service or that the medical needs of a PCV cannot be met in country. This obviously isn’t a good thing, but it doesn’t look bad on the PCV record because that is something out of one’s control. To be admin-sep’d is BAD. This is when a PCV violates the non-negotiables (a set of strict rules we have). Two PCVs from my training group were administratively separated in January for breaking the rules (and getting caught). This is the harshest type of separation from the PC. There are no benefits and it carries the worst connotation.

The last two ways are the Interrupted Service, in which the PCV gets most of the RPCV benefits, and of course, the COS—an official close of service. For a COS, each PCV completes a COS report and a description of service. This is the stamp of a “job well-done” as a volunteer is promoted to RPCV status. The COS is granted upon the completion of 27 hard months of service without throwing in the towel.

But now, ALL volunteers have the option to “complete service” without completing service, per se. Headquarters is making so many changes and trying to get the number of volunteers down so desperately that they are offering this “gift” to Early COS to all volunteers.

What are the benefits that come with being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV)?

1)     The title and status of RPCV. There is a whole community of RPCVs in which the new RPCV can be a part of. This is also great for resumés and job applications. Lastly, it gives the volunteer a sense of pride and accomplishment.

2)     The Fellows Program. There are between 50-60 universities in the U.S. that participate in the Fellows Program and reserve spots for RPCVs to pursue graduate studies. Many of the universities also offer RPCVs grants and scholarships as well as a study-related job or internship position while they are attending grad school.

3)     Re-application for a new Peace Corps post. Upon COS, an RPCV will receive priority consideration for a new post if he or she decides to sign up for another PC service in a different country. The tedious yearlong application process that we all went through no longer applies. The title of RPCV basically proves to PC recruiters and placement officers that the person has done it already, knows what to expect, and accepts the responsibility that comes along with service. I think an RPCV might even have a say in his country-of-choice, as well.

4)     Non-competitive Eligibility. If an RPCV wants to work for the federal government after completing service and applies for a job, he or she will be considered for the position non-competitively over the general public for up to a year after COS.

5)     Peace Corps Response. This is a program that entails PC type work on a short-term basis (usually no longer than one year) in other countries around the world. I am pretty sure the program is only available to RPCVs.

6)     Readjustment allowance & Perkins Loan reductions. Both of these depend entirely on one’s length of service, not the RPCV status. Readjustment allowance begins accruing monthly at swear-in (after 3 months of training); a typical readjustment allowance will account for 24 months of service. The Perkins Loan deal is that the government will reduce the total amount owed by 15% for each year of service.

What are the increased measures that PC Guatemala has taken in regard to volunteer support and safety?

At the conference, we were well informed of the implications that all volunteers who choose to stay will face including new rules that will require a greater commitment on the part of PCVs. Naturally, the implementation of stricter rules can make a person feel stripped of his or her independence, but these changes are easy to accept when considering the main goal which is our safety and security. The changes and policies are explained below.

~ Clearer expectations on policies/Reporting of Whereabouts. PCVs are given three weekend nights every month as “personal time away from site” which we can spend however we like (as long as we are not breaking any other policies). Anytime we spend the night somewhere besides our own town/site, we must report our out-of-site location and contact information via phone or e-mail so PC can keep track of us in the event of an emergency situation. PC is also working on how to better communicate suggestions versus mandatory policies to the PCV population.

~ Extension of “off-limits” areas. These are part of the non-negotiables, and if a PCV is found in an “off-limits” area, it is grounds for administrative separation. As of right now, the departments of El Petén and San Marcos are “off-limits” as well as Guatemala City and several unsafe roads and well-known narcotic zones. PCVs are required to get special permission if they need to travel to any of these places. Really the only “off-limits” place we ever need to go is Guatemala City for medical appointments or to meet our visitors at the airport.

~ Family home stays and safe hotels. Starting with my training group last April, PC changed policy and now requires that all PCVs live with a host family or in a family compound for the duration of their service abroad as opposed to living alone. For when we are traveling, our SSC, David, has researched areas that provide safe hotels/hostels (some even with security cameras) and has provided PCVs with these recommendations.

~Cell phone plan. All PCVs in Guatemala have this fantastic cell phone plan that allows us not only to stay updated on important communications and safety alerts, road conditions, etc. via text message from our SSC, but also to talk amongst each other for free! How cool is that? 🙂

~Transportation system and shuttle service. This is probably the most important and beneficial change to PC Guatemala. Our SSC, David, has set up routes and shuttle schedules for a transportation system available to all PCVs. The main routes run to and from the PC office in Santa Lucia and Guatemala City, and along the inter-American highway. Our new “Peace Corps shuttles,” if used effectively by PCVs, will eliminate the majority of our exposure to precarious situations on the public transportation in the “hot zones.” (Friends, co-workers, and visitors from the States also have access to the PC shuttles when they are traveling with us.)

~Regional Offices. Right now, the main PC office is located in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas near Antigua. Another PC office has recently been opened and is fully functioning in Xela, which requires some PVCs to travel much shorter distances to take care of any office business or pick up medical supplies/prescription refills. The advantage PC Guate has over Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador is that the PC offices are NOT located in the capital city (whereas in the other 3 countries they are). Capital cities are known for crime rates that are through the roof.

~All Volunteer Conference. This was called to realistically inform all PCVs of the current situation and give us the opportunity to get all our questions answered. This is also where we were presented with the option to Early COS. At the conference, outreach to volunteers was offered regarding safety and counseling. Also, resources such as resumé writing workshops and RPCV services were available for those volunteers COSing. Recruiters for Peace Corps Response and other PC posts were present as well.

How are PCVs responding to all the changes?

Well, it was a difficult week for everyone at the conference. People’s moods ranged from angry, sad, and reluctant to nonchalant, satisfied, relieved, or conflicted and confused. The PCVs who are being forced to COS one month early seem to be okay with that decision; they were on their way out anyway. All they have to do is make a few small adjustments.

The PCVs who are being forced out four months early are the most upset. The majority of them are just about to implement the infrastructure projects in their communities and those who have not yet received funding will most likely not be able to complete them. They feel helpless and can’t believe that the Peace Corps will just leave all those families hanging—those families with whom they have worked, formed close relationships, and made promises of these projects. Many of these volunteers pleaded to PC officials to let them stay until their projects were completed but all PCVs were denied that request and must COS by the end of March. Needless to say, it was an emotional week for this bunch.

Those volunteers who are being removed from their sites and relocated are not happy either, for the most part. Many of them feel very safe in their sites and are right in the middle of their work. They have already done the hard part of being new to a site and have gained the trust of the people with whom they live and work in their sites. In response to getting a site change, the general feeling is that no one really wants to start from scratch again in a brand new community, especially if he or she has less than a year left of service. Some PCVs feel that it would be better to COS now if they don’t believe they will work whole-heartedly for the remainder of their service in a brand new community. Other PCVs, although sad to leave their original communities, are being flexible to the changes and open to continuing service in a new site. (Many of the PCVs being relocated will be replacing the PCVs who are being forced to leave several months early.)

There is another type of volunteer who is relieved by all the changes and the Early COS option. Some PCVs may have struggled getting their work going in site or may have been dealing with other types of hardship here and are ecstatic at this opportunity. Some are just taking all this business as a sign that it is time to move on with their lives. Others are disappointed in Peace Corps and don’t want to continue working with an organization in which they have lost trust. Some are watching their entire social network of friends be forced out early and thus do not want to stay. Still others have just been downright frightened into leaving early.

How am I affected by all of this?

And then there is the PCV category into which I fall: the unaffected. Directly, I am hardly affected at all. They are not asking me to leave early before I finish my work nor to change sites and start all over again. It turns out that the department of El Quiché, where my site is located, happens to be one of the safest parts of the country right now. Lucky me! In fact, many of the PCVs being relocated are moving to sites in Quiché.

Being in this situation could be seen as both a blessing and a curse for us “unaffected” PCVs. It is a blessing because we are not being messed with; our worlds are not being turned upside down. We can stay right where we are and continue our business just as we always had before all these changes. We do not have to grieve over time being cut short or having to abandon a community and the people with whom we are building relationships.

On the other hand, this position is a bit of a curse. Many of us sat through the conference hesitant to put in our two-sense because we were surrounded by a bunch of angry PCVs who had all the right in the world to be upset. We tried to be empathetic, however, we just weren’t dealing with the same issues at the moment; it was really just better to stay quiet, listen to those who wanted to vent, and offer support where needed. The second con of this position is that we are offered the Early COS option same as everyone else, but it feels that we do not have rights to take it without being looked upon contemptuously by PCVs who would give anything to stay but are being forced to leave. In this position, one may also experience a sense of guilt in “quitting.”

Indirectly, I am affected at every angle. There will be new rules and policies to which I will have to adapt if I stay. The whole Peace Corps dynamic is going to shift. I’m watching half of the PC Guatemala network vanish practically into thin air so there is a huge sense of loss, especially when a handful of my friends are leaving. There is the “group mentality” effect to combat as well when one realizes that “everyone else is doing it.” Also to consider is the fact that all the 2nd-year Healthy Homes PVCs are going to be gone in March; they are primary resources for my group! They know the how-to for our program, and they are the people I look up to for some ideas, guidance, and advice. It feels like we are graduating from newbies to veterans in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, my group is going to be leading PC Guatemala into the future.

What are my thoughts?

There are days when I wonder, “What the heck is this little gringa doing wandering all over this country?” I do get lonely, bored, and frustrated every now and then. I wonder how much of a difference my work is really going to make. I can pretty much guarantee that every single PCV out here has considered taking that tempting free ticket and COSing early. In fact, I bet they have relentlessly churned those thoughts in their heads for the past month. I know I have.

My family is at home. Both my sister and my best friend are pregnant. I could be a part of all of that. I have thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be out of all this dust and mud and be clean all the time? Or to breathe fresh air and ride in my own car?” Also, it would be nice to have clean running water all the time as opposed to just for a couple hours every morning. I would have a washing machine, dryer, hot showers, and the like. I even have a job that I know I could go back to. I could begin my pursuit toward further education, or I could chase some old ideas I had before like pursuing dental hygiene or moving to Austin, TX to see what I could find out there. Or I just might run off to some other part of the world like New Zealand or Argentina or someplace like that.

I know of a handful of other PCVs who are still on the fence regarding their decision. My friend, Kathy, is being pulled out of her site in Huehuetenango and facing either site relocation or an Early COS. She is deep in her work and has a group of health promoters that she is training; they are supposed to graduate in July. She was struggling for the longest time about her decision. She even considered COSing but staying in her community on her own dime until she finished what she started. Of course I don’t want to see Kathy go because we have been through a lot together and always have so much fun, but Peace Corps is an individual experience, and everyone needs to make the decision that is best for him or herself. It becomes more obvious each day how each person out here has to learn how to stand alone and be comfortable with that. Kathy has recently decided to stay and take the site relocation, but all of us would have supported her decision either way.

The Peace Corps that we are currently experiencing is probably not what a lot of PCVs had in mind. Some of the PCVs here are being forced to cut their experience short without having the planned amount of time for proper closure—whether having to do with work, projects, or personal relationships gained here. Other PCVs are deciding that since this isn’t what they asked for and there is no guarantee the experience they expected will ever materialize, they are going to go home or find something else to do or sign up for a new PC assignment somewhere else in hopes to get that sense of fulfillment that they may be pursuing. There are those PCVs who are sticking it out with an open mind as to what will happen in the future, accepting the idea that things could get better or that they could get pulled out anytime, but they are going to do as much as they can each day that they have here because that is what they have committed to, and it feels right in their hearts to stay.

I have noticed a lot of parallels between being in the Peace Corps and being in a relationship. No relationship is perfect, right? There are always unexpected bumps in the road, and sometimes things don’t turn out exactly as we picture them in our idealistic visions and daydreams. Often though, if you love someone enough to be willing to work through the difficult times and put your heads together to create new solutions, the end result may end up being better than you could have ever imagined. Patience, persistence, flexibility. Time will tell. It is interesting to ponder all the factors that affect one’s decisions. The slightest change in some aspect of a person’s life could affect his or her path forever. But time will unveil what is meant to be. If you’re willing to stick it out, trust God’s plan, and see what happens, good things may come your way…

I haven’t done what I came here to do yet. I’m just getting started. I am reenergized and feel like this is going to be a great year. I made a commitment to serve here for 27 months, but I told myself that if I felt that my personal safety was in danger or got a gut feeling that I need to leave for whatever reason, I would listen to my intuition and go home. But I haven’t had any strong force pushing me to leave yet, and trust me, I’ve been waiting for that little voice to tell me something. If they pull us out, there is nothing I can do about it, but since I have the choice, I am going to stay. Plus, when else am I going to have the opportunity to be a certified, off-road tour guide to my handful of prospective visitors looking for a true Guatemalan adventure? 🙂

What is the future looking like for PC Guatemala?

By the time all is said and done on March 24th, the final COS date for this big wave of volunteers, it looks like there are only going to be somewhere between 80-100 PCVs serving in Guatemala. Those PCVs will be consolidated within five or six departments in the Central Western highlands and will have a hand in reshaping the identity of Peace Corps in Guatemala.

Of course, anything could happen. Although it is unlikely that a big change and drop in numbers will occur again anytime soon, we are all well aware that we may be pulled out of the country at anytime, regardless if we feel that our work is incomplete. Knowing that, I believe that the remaining PCVs will be fully devoted to each day they have here.


Thank you, Teri, Dad, and Lyndsie for the wonderful Valentine’s Day package! The personal letters were my favorite part. 🙂


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aaron Adelman
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 09:01:55

    Hello Alexandra,

    Please know that you have my continued prayer support for your safety.

    Alexandra, If I could encourage you to do one thing, it would be to seek counsel from your dad regarding the current issue. Billy is one of the wisest men I know, providing insight to me on many different occasions. His insight has proven to be invaluable. The counsel of your dad is a resource readily available unto you, something which many in our world today only wish they had.


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 16:51:14

      I suppose I have to agree with you about my Daddy´s wisdom! Lol. Thank you for the recommendation (and the prayers). Dad and I get to talk once about every two weeks or so. He is very supportive, although I am sure he worries occasionally, too. 🙂 I am enjoying the opportunity I have to get to know him better. As I slide graciously into my adult years, I am able to have more of a friendship with him as well as the father-daughter relationship we have always known. I am coming to appreciate him in the sense that you do, I suppose, and hearing how you respect the friendship you have with him makes me admire him even more. Thank you!


  2. Janine Lendl (Momma)
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 17:57:44

    Hi Sweetheart,

    Everyone you know is pulling for you and that your time in Guatemala is safe. We ALL know that you will make the wisest choices for yourself that are available to you. I wish I was there with you so that you are not so lonely at times. 🙂 We could take turns cooking !! Lol ! You know that you are in all of our hearts. Many friends and family members keep up with you through your blog site, therefore do not write, I think. Those letters during your lonely days surely make all of the difference…actually having something in your hands that we wrote. I can only encourage everyone to please, please send you letters or even postcards. It means so much…truly. I love you, Sweetie. Talk to you soon. Momma 🙂


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 17:05:37

      Momma! I am not so lonely anymore. Haha! That beginning part is always the hardest, but I am over that hill and coming up on a year in country so I have established myself in both a routine and relationships. (This is part of the normal volunteer cycle, so I knew it would happen, but I am relieved to have made it past that stage.) I can´t wait for you to come out here, though! We will talk soon about that…I have ideas. Love you!


  3. Kiki Broderick
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 06:13:11

    Hi Alexandra, Thank you for taking the time to write all this down. My daughter Michele is a volunteer in Guatemala, and she has explained the situation to me; nevertheless, I read every word of your blog with great interest. I wanted to make sure that she hadn’t left any information out so as not to worry me; she hadn’t. Michele has gotten permission to extend her service until March or 2013. This troubles me for sure, but hopefully the precautions that have been put into place will do the job to increase everyone’s safety. Best of luck to you!


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 17:01:37

      Hi Kiki,
      Please excuse my delayed response; I do not have regular access to the internet. I am glad that my post was thorough and informational enough for you that it helped to ease some worry. My parents were concerned as well! Like I mentioned, I hesitated to post this chapter until things settled down so as not to freak anyone out at home. (I also didn´t want my decision to be influenced by people from home who were only receiving bits of scary information without knowing the whole situation.) I am not quite sure who your daughter is, although I have heard the name Michelle floating around in the PCV population (I think there are 2 here), but I will keep an eye out for here, and I am sure I will run into her relatively soon–we must have some mutual friends. Anyway, things feel much more settled here now, and the last of the COSing volunteers are leaving at the end of next week. Oh, and the PCVs are LOVING the new PC shuttle system–that is going to reduce a lot of our risk to crime out here. 🙂
      Thanks for being an involved parent. (We all love it when our family members are participatory in our service even in the smallest ways!) Take care!


  4. aguslaloba
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 12:26:47

    ahh!! This post makes me nervous for you, but at the same time I know you’re a smart, dedicated, hard-working lady and that you’ll always do what is best for you! Miss and love you – and think about you often 🙂


  5. Alexandra Malina
    Feb 27, 2012 @ 15:59:11

    Hi Alexandra,
    My name is Alexandra too. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 2003-2005. I lived and worked in Tejutla, San Marcos as an agricultural marketing volunteer. I met and married a Guatemalan from San Marcos and we now live and work in Austin, TX (my hometown).

    Anyway, I has heard rumors of PC pulling out of Guatemala, so I googled the topic and found your blog. Thank you so much for this. You did a great job of explaining the whole situation. I really feel for all of you guys and can imagine what you are going through as a group. Any change in PC evokes lots of emotions. You seem to be approaching it all with such a great and trusting attitude, which I’m sure will lead you exactly where you need to be.

    I wish you all the best. Email me up if you ever come to Austin. I’ll give you a tour.

    Take care,
    Alexandra Malina


  6. Heather Nielsen
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 18:06:14

    Alexandra; Thanks for your very thorough explaination of the situation of PCV’s in Guatemala. I myself am a young, single volunteer serving in El Quiche (although not with the PC) and was concerned about the recent news of the withdrawl of new volunteers. Again, thanks for explaining to all! ~Heather


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 16:44:36

      Hi Heather! Please forgive the delayed response; I do not have internet on a regular basis. I am glad that this post was informative for you. Peace Corps keeps us very up-to-date on the security situations here. Being that you are a volunteer out here solo, you may not have easy access to that kind of stuff. Feel free to contact me if you would like. I am in San Andres Sajcabaja. I can e-mail you my phone number if you would like. Take care!


  7. alfredosolares
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 16:49:27

    Thank you for all you do for the people in Guatemala. Thank you for the great inside and your comments of the Peace Corps situation in the country. I’m a former Spanish teacher at the training center in Santa Lucia Milpas Altas. I worked there for several years, I met my wife (who was a wolunteer in Zunil, Quetzaltenango) while she was a PCV, Years after her sevice, we married and lived in Antigua Guatemala wher I am from. We decided to move to Portland Oregon in 1995-6 wher we live now. I worked for corporate business and now I am elementarya nd middle school teacher. We have visited Guatemala and our friends as much as we have been able to. Now I hope it is OK to use some spanish, and my apologies if it may cause an inconvinience. Hoy un amigo me llamó desde Guatemala, la noticia es devastadora, me dijo que el Doctor Sergio Mack tuvo un ataque al corazon. Podria decirme si eso es cierto? eso es devatador, cuando me case, Sergio fue el padrino de mi boda, el tambien fue el jefe del programa de salud donde mi esposa fue voluntaria, y nos hemos mantenido en contacto via email y telefono. El pasado agosto desayunamos juntos en un restaurante de La Antigua durente mi visita y todo parecia muy bien con el, su salud y sus planes. Yo llame a los telefono que tengo pero no tuve exito ni respuesta. Mil gracias anticipadamente,


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 16:39:09

      Querido Alfredo,

      Gracias por responder! Por desgracia, es la verdad que Sergio se murió hace una semana. Alguien me dijo que el tuvo un ataque pero no creo que fue de la corazon. (He had a stroke and then went into a serious coma, was on life support, and never recovered.) Su familia está bien triste y no estaba aceptando condolencias (condolences?) todavia. Lo siento por su perdida. Muchas personas aqui en Guatemala están bien afectados tambien, incluyendo mi APCD Basilio, un amigo cercano de Sergio.

      In otras noticias, todo con Cuerpo de Paz está más estable ahora. Se han quitado todos voluntarios de San Marcos, Huehuetenango, los Verapaces, el Oriente, y Suchitepequez y les han dado nuevos sitios en Chimaltenango, Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, y El Quiche. El resto de los voluntarios quien están terminando servicio van a salir a dentro de una semana. En mi opinión, todo parece tranquilo ahora.

      It is wonderful to hear great Peace Corps stories! I hope you and your wife are living very happily in the beautiful state of Oregon. I am glad my post was informative for you.



      • Sara Andrist
        Jan 01, 2013 @ 09:24:09

        This is terrible news about Sergio, and I am just seeing this now. Sergio was my APCD for Escuelas Saludables 2000-2002. I had kept in contact with Sergio and saw him in August of 2011 when i was there for work. He was such an inspiration to us all. i was so excited to hear how he had further transformed the Escuelas Saludables program even since we had been part of it. Condolences to his family and all of those who had the pleasure of being part of his life.

  8. Mike Meshak
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 21:24:46

    Thanks for the info. I served in San Juan Chamelco Alta Verapaz ’89-91 and always considered myself in a safe enough place. I consider PC service a phenomenal experience and really feel for all those whose time was cut short or cut really really short. As you said, it takes time to get trust built in a community and then you may see some action occur. Don’t blame yourselves or even Peace Corps. The world environment is changing and as populations go up and resources dwindle people react. PCVs just do the best they can with the talents and drive they bring to any community fortunate enough to have them. I tried to replicate my time there in Ecuador and it wasn’t the same so I ETd. Maybe the opposite could be true. Being jilted in Guatemala may mean being successful somewhere else. You never know. Best of luck to you all and the people who will be living there long after PCVs return to the US. They need you! Mike Meshak


    • Alexandra
      Mar 15, 2012 @ 17:21:50

      Hi Mike! Thanks for both reading and sharing an RPCV perspective. I could see that many PCVs struggled with all these changes because they felt like their PC experience was not turning out to be what they had expected. There was definitely a lot of disappointment. I believe that everyone (who had a choice) made the decision that was right for them. It was a big bummer for all those who had NO choice in the matter, though. From what I have gathered, even those being forced out of their sites who reluctantly opted for a site change are managing fairly well in their new homes. Granted some are struggling, but for others, their new situation is a thousand times better than they had before. Sorry to hear that Ecuador was not what you had hoped, but it seems to prove that big underlying current in the Peace Corps that 1) things do not always trun out as we expect and 2) no two experiences will be alike. I am looking forward to being a part of the RPCV community when I am finished here, but I still have a while to go! 🙂 Thank you for your words and support! Alexandra


  9. Paul David Duncan
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 12:49:00

    Hola Alexandra, I suppose I could e-mail the PC DC Guate desk but thought you might have this info now that (I believe) Basilio has retired. Do you have an e-mail for him? I was PC Guate (RPCV 1987-89) and also went back to Guate to train a couple forestry groups for Basilio. I want to connect with him, haven’t seen him in several years. My e-mail is, I’m associate director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute here at the Univ. of Georgia in Athens. So sorry to hear of Sergio Mack’s passing…


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February 2012
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Common Peace Corps Acronyms

PC = Peace Corps (sounds like "peese kor")
PCT = Peace Corps Trainee
PCV = Peace Corps Volunteer
PST = Pre-Service Training
ET = Early Termination
COS = Close of Service
NGO = Non-Governmental Organization
HH = Healthy Homes, the PC program I am in.
YD = Youth Development, the other program in my training group.


Anything that is written or views expressed on this blog are mine personally and do not represent the Peace Corps or the United States government.
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