The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Peace Corps ensures safety for students

 Peace Corps ensures safety for students
Peace Corps ensures safety for students

Peace Corps ensures safety for students

Travis Axton, a recent SMU graduate, had no idea what it meant to live in poverty but over the next two years, he will receive a backstage pass into a world of uncertainty and destitution in Zambia and South Africa.

Axton currently serves in the Peace Corps as a health educator.

He wanted to do something for the betterment of the world. Life has been too easy in Kentucky, Axton said. He has lived in middle-class suburbia with his parents and older sister where he’s had most things handed to him.

He hopes that living outside of his comfort zone will make him appreciate life more. This is his time to give back.

But since Sept. 11, questions have been raised about the safety and security of foreign travel and living abroad for Peace Corps volunteers like Axton. But before he and any of the volunteers even begin their service, many steps are taken to ensure their safety throughout their two-year stay.

“The safety and security of our volunteers remains our guiding force,” Ellen Fields, Peace Corps media relations representative for Washington, D.C., said. “We don’t shove people in communities where they are not wanted.”

Axton said he never paused to reconsider his decision since the terrorist attacks on America. He said he will feel safer in Zambia than at home.

Fields said the events of Sept. 11 are the cause of an overwhelming number of inquiries since the attacks. She said that applicants are motivated by the events of Sept. 11 and want to be of service to America and the rest of the world.

The numbers of inquiries are up over a year ago at this time. The Chicago office reported a 25 percent increase while the Boston office reported an increase of 10 percent from last year. According to the Web site, more than 1,200 application requests were made.

The request for more volunteers is part of the new USA Freedom Corps. The USA Freedom Corps is made up of Citizen Corp, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, and Peace Corps.

Before President George W. Bush echoed the requests for volunteers in his State of the Union address, Owen Ross joined the Peace Corps. As a former volunteer and a graduate theology student, Ross served in the Peace Corps after graduation from Texas A&M in 1996.

He was stationed outside the small town of El Empalme, located in the western lowlands of Ecuador, where he worked in cattle and swine management. Ross said that knowing what he knows now about the security standards of the Peace Corps, he would feel safe in a third world country.

He believes that there is now even more reason to join the Peace Corps.

“Our world is in a crisis,” Ross said. “If Americans think that our economy is only hurting us we are kidding ourselves. People in Ecuador are going to be suffering even more then before. The United States is getting bad publicity, and if we start to become isolationist, we are just opening ourselves up for more enemies.”

Ross added that this is the time that America needs as many allies as possible.

“The best diplomatic gesture that America can extend is to serve other countries,” Ross said. “If anything, we need to be building up the Peace Corps.”

That is why Axton left home to join the many others that share Ross’ views. Although Axton’s experience as a health educator will be quite different from Ross’, similar safety precautions for volunteers are the Peace Corps’ top priority.

“Each Peace Corps program has an emergency action plan specific to their country developed in cooperation with the embassy,” Fields said.

According to the official Peace Corps Web site, a system of actions taken by the Peace Corps is dependent on the severity of the crisis. The series of stages, in order, include standfast, consolidation and evacuation.

Safety is now the guiding force for the reopening of the Central Asia program. A program will not exist until the location is secure again. Fields cited Peru as an example. For the first time in 25 years, volunteers will serve that country. A possible program in East Timor is also in the works.

Fields could not estimate how long it would be before volunteers were sent back to the recent evacuated countries, but a team has been secured who could be sent to Afghanistan with very little notice. The team’s emphasis will be on health, construction and education. When volunteers do indeed return to the evacuated cities, it is by invitation of that country.

“We just don’t shove people in communities where they are not wanted,” Fields said. “Community members want the volunteers there.”

The Peace Corps Web site devotes a section of its site to the realities of the world and the measures that should be taken to ensure safety. Many key assumptions are considered in order to reduce harm. One key assumption is the requirement to change lifestyle. Fields said that as a sign of respect, dress, entertainment and companionship must be re-evaluated.

Volunteers do not walk into a village without the proper training beforehand, said Fields. According to the Web site, “from the moment an applicant is invited to serve in a particular country, specific information about potential challenges is provided from a variety of sources.”

The information includes cultural differences. With this information, volunteers can make an educated decision if they want to continue with the process.

But the Peace Corps safety procedures do not stop here. Before reporting to the designated community volunteers participate in an eight to 12-week training session in their specific country, Fields said.

“They (volunteers) learn what the norm is, and this training and awareness occurs throughout a persons’ service years,” Fields said. “The volunteer awareness program is conducted about safety and security in a world that isn’t always safe and secure.”

Peace Corps ensures safety for students

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