Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Future of PC-Honduras

This is a tough blog post to write.

Two days ago all PCVs in Honduras received a bomb-shell email from our Regional Director, our boss in charge of all Peace Corps programs in Latin America and the Pacific island countries. He told us that the decision was made to suspend Peace Corps Honduras and that all volunteers are being sent back to the US for at least 30 days on “Administrative Hold” while the future of the program is deliberated in Washington. That is bureaucratic code for “Honduras is being shut down.”  It was a decision that we had feared might be coming for months now, but one that I had hoped wouldn’t actually happen.

It has been a rough year for volunteers in this country. San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras, is statistically one of the two or three most dangerous cities in the world. Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, is not far behind. In essence, gang warfare and narco-trafficking in the country are out of hand and very little is being done to effectively put a stop to it. This has been a reality that all PCVs in the country have come to understand and was a major focus of our 3 months of training. For the most part we are very careful about travelling in the country and generally try to keep a low profile. Even though it has been a precarious situation for a while now – considering that volunteers were still getting robbed at gunpoint and having their houses broken in to etc – major crimes still had not been directed at PCVs. That is, until this year.

We PCVs here are definitely a family and we pride ourselves on the mutual support we give each other professionally and personally; we’re all in this together, kinda thing. So, when something like this happens to a fellow volunteer, we all feel it, we all get shaken. But earlier this year, two female volunteers were raped within a month’s time. I can only imagine how something so ugly will change their lives forever and it makes me sick to think that there are people out there so messed up they’d do something like that, no matter what country they’re from. Naturally, the US government is ultimately held responsible and actions must be taken.

Combine this new reality in Honduras with major budget cuts to Peace Corps worldwide and you get the level of change that has hit our program here this year. Policies were shifted, six projects were cut down to four, staff and volunteer numbers were reduced, more places became off-limits for PCVs and, they announced the cancellation of the arrival of the new training group scheduled for this coming February. Amongst this whirlwind of changes, our Safety and Security Officer (SSO) resigned. I stopped by his office before he left to thank him for his hard work despite his tough job and he told me how much the events of this year had deeply affected him and, basically, that he couldn’t take another month of his job.

Reading all this as I write it makes it sound like a bad dream that keeps getting worse. A few weeks after our SSO left, our Safety and Security staff aid personnel was also let go as part of the earlier-mentioned office cutbacks. Then, as our Country Director was in Panama for a conference, the last straw finally broke the camel’s back: a female volunteer was shot in the leg in an armed robbery gone bad, as she travelled back to her site from San Pedro Sula (see La Prensa article, Spanish). It was a classic case of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” as an official in our office put it in his email, and it could have happened to any of us. Thank goodness, she is alive and recovering, but that did it.

I’m not happy with all this, obviously. The last five months of my service, perhaps the most important part, have been robbed. My projects, which were counting on another combined nine months of PC volunteer support, are now having the rug pulled out from under them, putting their continued wellbeing at risk. For example, my major Health Center project is put on hold, and the help my community was expecting won’t be coming now. How do you think an incident like this will affect our tourism project? Additionally, I have to say goodbye to my friends and work partners here all of a sudden, just like that, after almost two years of living here. Essentially, the criminals of the big cities in Honduras are making the innocent rural communities lose out.

On a personal level too, we are being picked up and dropped into a very different life, most suddenly. I do not know if I will be ready to go back to the United States, considering the rapid cultural change that represents. It is safe to say that the majority of volunteers in my training group, who still had another five months here, do not have jobs lined up yet, places to live, or money to support ourselves! We were counting on that crucial time to get our futures straightened out.

When I told members of my co-op what was happening, the president of the board of directors wept as he apologized on behalf of his country. They all felt awful that a volunteer had been hurt and furious that Honduras is in such a bad place right now, that nothing is being done by their government to fix the situation. I told them that even though I feel very safe and comfortable here in San Luis Planes and that our work together was great, that I have no choice in the matter. I will always remember my time spent here positively and think of them warmly. Maybe I will be able to return some day.

In the mean time, those of you reading this, please know that I am healthy and safe. Please do not send mail because it probably will not get here before I leave.

To be fair and consistent, here is the official statement from PC Washingon:


  1. Alex, good summary. The shame that our close Honduran friends in Trinidad feel for their country may be the toughest pill to swallow. You hit the nail on the head when you spoke about big city criminals killing small town opportunities.

  2. Thank you very much for this article. It answers a lot of things I've been wondering about. Best of luck to you in your future plans.

  3. After hearing all the greatings and comments of members and boards members of the Montana Verde Empresa I am very sorry that you have to leave so early. You seem to be more than only appreciated in San Luis and other communities, people will truly miss you and I feel as sorry as you are about the fact that you are leaving your projects unfinished and also the increasing level of violence in the Country. My own NGO decided to act in this way and now force us to take cars instead of buses in the State of Santa Barbara and Copan, as well as being as low profile as possible. I will try my best to see if we could find you a spot in our work alex gringo.

  4. I feel so sorry to hear that volunteers got shot and had security problems. To leave the project unfinished is a loss for the volunteers as well for the honduran community. We have a NGO as well in Tegus and on Roatan and we are transporting our volunteers since the beginning with our private car to the project (if not possible to walk to the project). In my opinion the NGOs are responsible for their volunteers and their security and should not let them take the public buses (it is known since a long time that the public buses are not safe anymore).
    Eliane from the organization

  5. Wow cuz, that's all so sad. What happened to your fellow peace corp and having to leave all that hard work without finish (not to mention your life...). Do you think enough is in place to keep the work going? You can come back and live in Lincoln or Omaha w mom, aunt, or cuz J. Maybe continue doing some work via Internet? I'll let you live w them rent free to get stuff done... You could come stay on our living room couch in Breck..
    :) cuz Krissy

  6. Tough news Alex. I hope this transition goes smoothly... good luck in the coming months!

  7. hi alex, it's sam kruse. reading this from over here in spain and feeling your pain about saying goodbye to friends and coworkers in another country and having to be uprooted and sent back to the states to readjust so unprepared and hurriedly....i would be so overwhelmed by all of it! glad you have fond memories still, sorry for what happened to your fellow volunteers, and i hope you have a safe trip back to the states or are having a wonderful return if you've already arrived! miss you. viva salamanca :)