Entry #65: Peace Corps Uganda has Evacuated.

leaving our sites

Date: 3/21/2020
Time: 3:17PM
Location: En route to the US, from Turkey

There’s been a lot that has been going on, I’ll try to keep it concise. Globally, all Peace Corps Volunteers are getting evacuated from their country.

Give me the rundown, what’s going to happen with Peace Corps?

Because of COVID-19, all Peace Corps Volunteers across the world have been ordered to evacuate because of directive from the Director of Peace Corps, Jody K. Olsen.

[D]ue to the COVID-19 outbreak and related travel constraints and school closings….it has become clear in the last 48 hours that numerous posts must follow suit.

It is against this backdrop that I have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend all Peace Corps operations globally and evacuate all of our Volunteers. As COVID-19 continues to spread and international travel becomes more and more challenging by the day, we are acting now to safeguard your well-being and prevent a situation where Volunteers are unable to leave their host countries.

Because of the COVID-19 or Coronvirus global pandemic, all Peace Corps posts worldwide have been ordered to evacuate their country of service to return home.

As you would expect, it’s a mammoth of a task to order all volunteers across the world to return back to America. Some volunteers have only been here for a few months, whereas other volunteers were getting ready to close out their service after more than two years of work.

My experience with evacuation

It was way too fast.

Hanging out with my fellow volunteers

One day, I’m hanging out with my friends in town having an afternoon drink, the following day I’m with my friends having a sleepover, and the next day after that we’re being told to pack up all our things and evacuate.

It’s difficult because it was so fast.

Working in Peace Corps was not easy, but with the amount of time we’ve spent here and the bonds and relationships we have made with fellow volunteers and our Ugandan friends, we’ve become accustomed to our new lifestyle. To me, evacuation meant uprooting all of that work and leaving that work in one fell swoop.

I will no longer be able to see my fellow volunteers to do the work we would be excited about. The projects that we had set up for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, the home agriculture projects I wanted to do, because I won’t be there to start those projects, some things will just not get off the ground.

I will no longer be able to see Fauza or grandma Loy in the village from my afternoon bike ride home from work. It means all the connections I’ve made with my friends in and out of the village is going to disappear. Most people don’t have the means for communicating internationally, so it’s very difficult to reach these people in the rural areas.

my food vendor, Fauza

I’m saddened and upset at all of this, but it’s something out of my control and I can’t hang on to that feeling forever. Eventually, I’ll move on and maybe one day I’ll reconnect back to Uganda to do the work I left unfinished.

So what does this mean for Peace Corps Volunteers

All Peace Corps Volunteers that have been evacuated as a result of this order will be going through a Close of Service (COS) where all volunteers will have Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) status.

COS generally happens at near the end of a Volunteer’s two-year service, however, in this circumstance because of evacuation, all volunteers have closed their service regardless of service time.

Volunteers that have served 6 months, volunteers that have served 10 months, volunteers that have served 18 months, all volunteers will have COS’ed and obtained RPCV status.

What does it mean to be an RPCV?

Being an RPCV means that we’re pretty much done with our Peace Corps service.

Well, for now at least. At this stage, it’s up to the RPCV to figure out their next move. Whether it means to work another job, apply for another site for volunteering under Peace Corps, or going to grad school, these are the common paths people go through.

Since this evacuation was so sudden, many RPCVs from this whole fiasco feel at a lost for what they’re supposed to do next, including me. For volunteers that have not come close to their 2 years of service, there is another dilemma: be patient to return to site or move on.

For some volunteers, they want to return to their site as a Peace Corps Volunteer ASAP. So, for these volunteers, waiting it out seems like the option they want to take. However, it could be months before we are even allowed the chance to go back.

For other volunteers, they want to move on beyond Peace Corps, looking ahead for a new opportunity. Whether that means getting a job, volunteering through another agency/organization, traveling, or grad school, it’s the chance to start something new.

I’m not really sure what I want to do next, I’m still trying to process everything and figure out my logistics:

  • How do I make money now?
  • Do I want to work a job again?
  • What if my Peace Corps site reopens again in 1 month? 2 months? 6 months?

Well since you’re back, how will you actually survive?

For now, all volunteers will receive a Readjustment Allowance and Evacuation Allowance.

For Peace Corps volunteers, we accumulate a certain amount of money per month of service in a separate account under Peace Corps. Once we have finished our service, that accumulated amount is paid to us in one lump sum; usually.

In this scenario, because volunteers are at varying stages of their service, we get paid according to how long we have served. This is where things got tricky.

If there is a volunteer that served for 6 months and a volunteer that served for 18 months, if they both got evacuated, do they get the same amount of money?

No. That’s the issue that some people are dealing with.

There are lots of documents and paperwork that was sent to us via email these last few days, and the information has been a bit confusing. The short version of what happens to volunteers is that:

  • Yes. Volunteers will get money, varying according to how long you have served.
  • Not all volunteers will get the same amount.

There is a separate Evacuation Allowance that we are paid in addition to this readjustment allowance. Because of the major change that comes with evacuating, some volunteers might not have accumulated enough money to readjust to live in America. So, Peace Corps will issue an additional allowance according to our amount of time served.

Won’t go in to too much detail about this money stuff because honestly I’m still trying to figure it out too, lol.

Well cool. Since you’re back at home, what do you plan to do?

Worry about my friends that aren’t back at home.

Some volunteers are STILL in transit back home. With airlines and airports shutting down left and right, I’m just hoping that my friends get back home safely.

I’m in self-quarantine right now (and now I have electricity!) so I want to focus on recapping my Peace Corps experience, writing, putting together my pictures, and so on. I also want to tie up all the loose ends that I can do by communicating with my Ugandan friends there.

Will you go back to Uganda?

Not as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

One of our last meals with our family in Iganga District

I think my capacity to work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is somewhat limiting. I think there are other ways I can contribute work beyond the Agribusiness and Economic Development framework. I work a lot in IT and business work, from what I’ve done the past 10 months, I think I should focus on these things rather than Agriculture.

If I do go back to Uganda, it’s because I want to do it on my terms, for the projects I want to do.

By any means, I don’t dislike Peace Corps, they have done so much for in terms of support, guidance, and opportunity, but with what I have learned in the 10 months there, I think I can cater it to my own agenda and support programs in ways that I can do leverage best. I’ve worked with the community and its leaders long enough that I know where my interests and opportunities can stand.

I have no idea when I will go back, but eventually I’ll go back!

I enjoyed my time working in Uganda, in the village setting, but I was getting a little crazy living like that too haha. It’s not an easy lifestyle change, but if I could work in Uganda again, as long as I can get electricity every other day, that would be fantastic.

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