Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 01/27/2012

Peace Corps Guatemala= “the times they are a-changing!”

27 enero 2012 viernes 

The intrepid Municipal Development Advisor volunteers

The intrepid Municipal Development Advisor volunteers

After an emotional 3 days of an all-volunteer conference in Xela I should just climb into bed now that I’m back in my tranquillo little town….yet my mind is still trying to process all of the recent events and the implications for Peace Corps Guatemala.  Since we are “the boots on the ground” for Peace Corps operations, my fellow volunteers and I greatly appreciated the presence of top staff from Peace Corps Washington D.C. to deliver the news.  Their PPT presentation of the historical adaptation of this Peace Corps post through times of war and other strife gave context to the current changes that are underway.  After days and even weeks of a busy rumor mill in the U.S. press, and certainly in the blogosphere of PCVs about what is happening in Guatemala….there has been considerable  fear that this country post was being shut down. Now we volunteers know that this post is not being closed down, but it is definitely being restructured.

What has now been revealed to the approximately 220 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in Guatemala is that the incidence of crimes against volunteers has been unacceptably high, therefore this  leads to measures to improve our security here…. The strategies include:  reducing the volunteer population by half in the near future and consolidating the remaining volunteers into the region of the Western Highlands. Why? Various reasons, one of which is that the new government intends to crack down on drug trafficking so Peace Corps prefers to be proactive and remove volunteers from those targeted areas. With volunteers in a smaller geographic area of the country, Peace Corps staff can also provide greater support. To reduce the risk of theft during travel, we will no longer ride on the camionetas (chicken buses) for most trips on the Interamerican Highway, instead using tour buses or Peace Corps shuttle vans.  Does it mean that travel on camionetas is inherently unsafe? No.  However, Peace Corps wants to insure less chance of incidents.

Stephanie...you will go far!

Other measures include two training groups leaving 1-4 months earlier than planned, so there was a lot of angst amongst volunteers about leaving behind their unfinished projects and beloved communities. After a few days of processing this dramatic news, people moved along the grief continuum to a tentative acceptance of what this meant for each person. Me? I happen to be a lucky one located in the department of Totonicapán which is considered within a safe zone, so I will get to finish out my service in my site. Others are facing the option of leaving their service early or relocating to a new site….the latter is not so easy after nearly 18 months in their current communities.  Difficult choices!

The "Gang"- my beloved training group!

So with hugs and tears we clung together….our training group of 28 will see some of our members head stateside before March 25th, and others will tackle the challenge of a site change.  Last night I helped my friend, Stephanie, work on her resume to jumpstart her return home….not a step she anticipated taking for awhile.  Yet I know that the challenge of Peace Corps has strengthened the character and abilities of all of us. We have learned how to form coalitions and to persevere and remain flexible in the face of obstacles (both financial and otherwise). What future employer does not seek such attributes and skills?….so the only guarantee is that adventures will assuredly follow each of us whether we remain serving here in Guatemala or head onto the next stage in the U.S.

¡Qué les vayan bien, mis amigos queridos!!

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Responses

  1. Janet,

    Thanks for this interesting update. Sounds like Guatemala is interesting now. I hear the ex=president is going on trial.

    I’m glad you weren’t affected by the new restructuring!

    I removed the popcorn ceiling from my house today, or at least I paid two Mexican fellows 75 bucks a piece to do it. Well worth it, in my view.

    Great write-up.

    Hugs,

    Michael

  2. I’m happy you’re smiling in the group shot, but I was startled to see the obvious scowls on so many other faces. I hope those folks come out all right!

    Mark

  3. I have to explain the “scowls”…we didn’t all get the message to coordinate what we were doing, so some gave an American smile (me) and others practiced their “Mayan smiles”…that’s what we call the look most Mayans give for photos. Case in point, check out the “smile” of our program coordinator, Carlos, (the one obvious Guatemalan) in the posted photo of the muni volunteers! He is the perfect example of what Mayans do in photos!! It’s not that Mayans never smile, it’s just they don’t smile for photos so it can be very frustrating for us Americans wanting them to lighten up in photos. That said, the “Mayan smiles” are actually a pretty good reflection of the inner turmoil all of us have been feeling with the changes in Peace Corps Guatemala and the early departure of good friends.


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