1000th Crisis Corps Volunteer Sent to El Salvador as Crisis Corps Celebrates Decade of High-Impact Relief Work

June 29, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2006 As Crisis Corps celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, Michelle Cheltenham of Taylor, Mich., became the 1000th Crisis Corps volunteer sent into service. Since the organization's inception in 1996, Crisis Corps has served in 42 countries around the world, including the U.S. Cheltenham, 31, will spend the next six months in El Salvador, serving as a disaster preparedness specialist for the Fundacin para el Desarrollo (FUNDESA).

"A decade ago, Crisis Corps was a budding notion and today it is an essential cornerstone of Peace Corps' contribution to the world, one that demonstrates our ability to adapt to change and respond nimbly to various challenges around the globe, and even here on American soil," said Gaddi H. Vasquez, director of the Peace Corps.

"Crisis Corps volunteers like Michelle offer their expertise and commitment to help rebuild countries after natural disasters strike and to help the community mitigate future challenges. They also help combat HIV/AIDS through education and have even aided in conflict-resolution."


Cheltenham, the 1000th Crisis Corps volunteer
Through her work with FUNDESA, Cheltenham will help the Salvadoran communities to promote disaster management and risk mitigation; organize local emergency committees; advise communities on improving disaster preparedness and response plans; develop strategic training plans and disaster preparedness tools, implement monitoring, evaluation and control strategies to improve the sustainability of the disaster prevention project and strengthen project management capacities in the institution and communities.

Prior to her Crisis Corps service, Cheltenham served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Grenada from 1998 to 2000 working in education projects for both mathematics and community health. During her service, she was selected by the Peace Corps staff to serve as a volunteer leader and was tasked with developing parts of the Emergency Action Plan for several of the islands in the Caribbean. The position offered the opportunity to organize disaster preparedness trainings for new Peace Corps volunteers.

She graduated from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., with a master's degree in Sustainable Development. Her program focused on Program Planning and Design, Assessment and Evaluation, and Training and Design. She also holds a bachelors degree in Social Relations from Michigan State University.

Crisis Corps' Early Beginnings

On December 4, 1995, Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan sent Peace Corps volunteers to the island of Antigua to help rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Luis. This pilot effort marked what came to be known as the Crisis Corps, a new program within the agency that enables experienced Peace Corps volunteers to respond to humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Using the language, technical and cross-cultural skills gained through Peace Corps service and other professional experience, the Crisis Corps allows former or returned volunteers desiring to continue their service to return to the field in short-term, high-impact assignments that typically range from three to six months.

On June 19, 1996, President Clinton honored the Peace Corps at a Rose Garden ceremony reuniting the first group of volunteers who left for Ghana 35 years earlier, and a new group just about to leave for Ghana. During the ceremony, President Clinton formally announced the creation of the Crisis Corps program. Later that year, the first official Crisis Corps volunteers were sent to the Czech Republic to work on environ-mental issues following severe floods.

Volunteers' Testimonials

Adrienne Rathert, HIV/AIDS: Malawi, 2004-05
Adrienne Rathert, 27, of Chicago, Ill., served as a Peace C Rathert, HIV/AIDS: Malawi, 2004-05
Adrienne Rathert, 27, of Chicago, Ill., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi 2002-04 and then again in Malawi as a Crisis Corps volunteer, working with a host country NGO on an HIV/AIDS nutrition project.

"I left Peace Corps Malawi after my two years of service not quite satisfied. I had a great two years in my village: with my neighbors, my work, my dog. But something was missing. Five months later I was back as a Crisis Corps volunteer working for an NGO in Northern Malawi to help improve the nutrition of people living with HIV/AIDS. I had a goal. I had tasks that fit neatly into the 8 months my assignment called for. I had a toilet in my house! And most importantly, I was working with people who wanted to live. They are people living out a death sentence, wanting to learn how to live longer, wanting to learn how to live better. This is what I came back for: hope."

Theresa Elders, Hurricane Katrina: U.S., 2005
Theresa Elders, 68, of Colville, Wash., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize (1987-89), the Dominican Republic (1992-95) and served as a Crisis Corps volunteer in the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina, working on a FEMA mission assignment. Prior to her Katrina work, Theresa also served as in Seychelles in 1995. She was recently awarded the 2006 UCLA Alumni Community Service Award, mostly for her work in the Peace Corps.

"I'm one of those Peace Corps retreads, serving in four countries in three decades, all over the age of 50. My Crisis Corps Hurricane Katrina work with FEMA, though different from my overseas assignments and my work at headquarters, gave me a profound sense of satisfaction. When the hurricanes roared through the Gulf States, I knew I wanted to contribute more than money. And Crisis Corps stepped up and opportunity knocked indeed. Did I make a difference, despite that I could not use my skills as a psychiatric social worker? By being at the reception desk at dawn, and respectfully directing applicants to the proper resources, I know I eased the trek through the bureaucratic morass for many. And, yes, I would do it again."

Leo Redmond, Post-Hurricane Stan Disaster Preparedness: Guatemala, 2006
Leo Redmond, 25, of Rockaway, N.J., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay (2002-04) and is currently a Crisis Corps volunteer serving in Guatemala, working with CARE on an agro-forestry project following the devastation of Hurricane Stan.

"Whereas one's Peace Corps experience is an extremely decelerated process emphasizing the fundamentals of building community relationships, a Crisis Corps experience has a more heightened, task oriented feel to it. In effect, the Crisis Corps is the ultimate extension of resource identification and allocation: matching the linguistic and technical skill sets of returned Peace Corps volunteers with individuals, communities and countries that need them most.

"Like the Peace Corps, the Crisis Corps is a statement by America, that we as Americans are present, both in times of joy as well as times of sadness, in the lives of our fellow human beings. Through our service, we are able to put a human face, touch, and character to the intangible tenets which make up the United States of America.

"I am currently serving as an agroforestry Crisis Corps volunteer in the town of Tacana, San Marcos which is located 50 km south of the Mexican border in the southwestern highlands of Guatemala. I help to coordinate the reforestation efforts of the NGO CARE Guatemala and the local Tacana Forestry Office in a dozen rural communities hardest hit by Hurricane Stan.

"Stan's week long rainy presence over this remote mountainous region during the first week in October 2005 caused massive and widespread mudslides that destroyed houses, water systems, roads and bridges and turned countless hectares of arable land into a waste land of rocks and debris. Working along side two other Crless hectares of arable land into a waste land of rocks and debris. Working along side two other Crisis Corps volunteers, civil engineer Ken Kartchner and live stock specialist Wayne Winzer, as well as resident Agroforestry Peace Corps volunteer Eric Black, our multidisciplinary team has been able to address some of the more pressing concerns of post hurricane recovery: bringing potable water systems back on line, increasing food security through small scale chicken and pig projects and land recuperation through the establishment of agroforestry systems.

"Throughout the last three months I have found myself in the fortunate position of being able to provide meaningful technical support while sharing in the daily lives of rural community members as they summon the strength to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move forward with hope and purpose. To put it simply it is a sight to see and a lesson to be learned by all of us.

"As always in one's Peace Corps experience, Crisis Corps experience and the experience of life overall, the learning curve is steep but the return on investment is more than fulfilling if one is keen enough to realize which currencies are of true value.

"As they say: Life is an everyday affair."

Mark Henley, Tsunami Reconstruction: Thailand, 2005
Mark Henley, 40, of Seattle, served in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer (1989-91) and again as a Crisis Corps volunteer in 2005, working on tsunami reconstruction efforts with a host country government organization on a water and sanitation engineering project.

"My Crisis Corps assignment in a tsunami devastated region of southern Thailand involved supervising the construction of a donated potable drinking water treatment plant with a market value of $400,000 USD. My responsibilities included working closely with the local sub-district government staff regarding scheduling, design interpretation (reading the construction drawings including electrical diagrams), construction management, and operations and maintenance training.

"In addition, I helped with construction tasks. I wanted to return to my Peace Corps volunteer country, in a time of need, to give back to the Thai people who were so kind to me during my initial assignment. For this assignment, it required many of the skills and abilities that I gained from jobs that I have held since being a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand 16 years ago. I am not sure that I could have accomplished my Crisis Corps assignment with the original skill set that I came to Thailand with when I was straight out of college. Before volunteering for the Crisis Corps, I did not expect or realize that the Crisis Corps assignment would demonstrate to me how much I had learned and grown professionally after my original assignment. This was very rewarding to see the proof of what I have learned over the years.

"Although my initial assignment in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer sixteen years ago was very enriching, the Crisis Corps experience in some ways was even more urgent and rewarding. The Crisis Corps provided an opportunity for me to give back to my former country with more maturity, skills, wisdom, perception and professionalism."

Clem Deveau, HIV/AIDS: Kenya, 2005
Clem Deveau, 46, of Fort Kent, Maine, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon (2001-03) and served as a Crisis Corps volunteer in Kenya in 2005, where he was the Coordinator for the Drug Abuse Program of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Mombasa. After his Crisis Corps service, Clem was hired on by the UNODC and continues his work on the project today as a paid employee.

"As a Crisis Corps volunteer, I was posted in Mombasa, a city of about 1.3 million people. My work was primarily in Mombasa, but also covered the Kenya coast region. My primary role was to coordinate the development of services for heroin addicts and commercial sex workers to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDevelopment of services for heroin addicts and commercial sex workers to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. The project targets this high risk population, but focuses specifically on reducing the risks to others. The project provides information, education, and resources to deal with one's HIV status and reduce the subsequent spread of the disease. This is accomplished by facilitating HIV testing among such a high risk population and encouraging them to know their HIV status.

"Among the HIV negative, the outreach program component focuses on helping these individuals remain HIV negative. With the HIV positive clients, the project provides treatment, rehabilitation, education, along with various services to help these individuals remain healthy and avoid the spread of the HIV virus to others.

"The outreach team is made up of approximately 22 workers in Mombasa. They go out each day and make contact with heroin users and commercial sex workers. My role as project coordinator was to supervise these workers, ensuring that sound practices are adhered to, and report on project goals and outcomes. I also worked with a local coordinator to help train him in developing the project, and understand the local needs of the population.

"Each week we make contact with well over 100 heroin users and encourage them to get tested for HIV as well as educating them about how to reduce the risk of spreading the HIV virus or avoiding contracting the virus from others.

"The other component of my work was the overall program management and services development of the project along the coast region of Kenya. This included the development of new services such as implementing a detox facility, halfway house, drop-in center, outpatient drug treatment facility, women's rehabilitation residential treatment, and coordinating services with a strong link to the outreach program and drop-in center component. The work was challenging but wonderful. The people are extremely receptive to new ideas and willing to join together to help their community members. Their enthusiasm is great.

"I truly enjoyed my Crisis Corps experience. The local people are really what made it the most valuable. It was and continues to be a wonderful experience as well as a great opportunity to use some of my clinical skills and learn about this culture. I grow personally each day as I spend more and more time with the local Swahili people and learn about their culture."

Robert A. Findlay, Hurricane Mitch Reconstruction: El Salvador, 1999
Robert Findlay, 64, of Olympia, Wash., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia (1963-65). He later served as a Crisis Corps volunteer in the Cook Islands in 1998 and aided in hurricane reconstruction in El Salvador in 1999.

"The emergency management assignment on the coast of El Salvador came after Hurricane Mitch left considerable flood damage in the area and before the massive earthquake later that year. It was immediately apparent that the modest mitigation efforts underway in the fishing villages were futile against the natural powers changing the coastal substructure. More importantly, the human alteration of the entire watershed upstream (deforestation of mountainsides and channelization of rivers) compounded the problems for the coastal villagers.

"An assignment that was to focus locally quickly changed to a research effort to document conditions in the watershed - an effort that drew on my somewhat rusty skills in Spanish learned in Colombia in the 1960s. The project culminated in presentations to a Peace Corps conference of Central American and Caribbean country leaders on volunteer safety and disaster management."

Bob Loew, Tsumani Reconstruction: Sri Lanka, 2005
Bob Loew, 59, of Fremont, Calif., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia (1966-70) and served as a Crisis Corps volunteer in Sri Lanka, where he did civil engineering and reconstruction work with the Christian C volunteer in Sri Lanka, where he did civil engineering and reconstruction work with the Christian Children's Fund, following the 2004 tsunami.

"After two previous assignments and then 30 years back in the States, I joined a Crisis Corps team headed for Sri Lanka to do civil engineering and reconstruction after the 2004 tsunami. The needs were real and evident. The people wanted the help and were receptive to it. Motivation and buy-in weren't an issue.

"I was assigned to a local group of host-country engineers and social workers. We executed a fast-track program of surveying the damage, prioritizing a list of projects, doing the design work, contracting with local constructors, and supervising the construction. By the end, we renovated or re-built parts of four schools, a hospital, a community health center, and a public park.

"It felt unbelievably good to be back at it again. It never goes away."

Zelda Zadnik, HIV/AIDS: Zambia, 2005
Zelda Zadnik, 57, of Strasburg, Va., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia (1981-84) and later as a Crisis Corps volunteer in Zambia, where she created an AIDS Awareness quilt for World AIDS Day 2005 with youth at the Muchinka Center.

"I came to Muchinka Center for AIDS Prevention and Care in Mansa, Zambia with lots of experience and ideas. I had worked with an AIDS service organization for 10 years in Virginia as an educator and director.

"Part of my assignment was to develop and educate the youth group at the center. I had worked with adolescents in creating an AIDS quilt in the States, and I thought it would be an excellent idea for the kids to experience in Mansa. Since I only had six months to complete a number of goals, I set out immediately to introduce the quilt idea to staff and the Friday afternoon youth group. Everyone liked the idea, but probably never visualized the process or end product.

"I discussed with the youth how AIDS affected them, their families and the community and brainstormed what they wanted to communicate on the quilt. One of their homework assignments was to think of a phrase or sentence they would write on their quilt piece. All their messages were written out on large paper and assembled in the sand under the cotton wood tree. These messages were printed on 12 x 12 inch squares of colored material and creatively decorated with pictures depicting themselves, their homes, school or special interest. They sewed buttons, glued scraps of material and seeds and stickers brought from the States on each square. It took another three weeks to sew each piece on a larger piece of fabric and have it titled in bold letters Muchinka Center Youth, World AIDS Day 2005. The AIDS quilt was displayed as part of the town's activities for World AIDS Day."

Kevin Schartz, Tsunami Reconstruction: Thailand, 2005
Kevin Schartz, 33, of Las Vegas, Nev., served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia (2002-04) and then as a Crisis Corps volunteer in Thailand in 2005, working on a construction/carpentry project in tsunami-ravaged Thailand.

"I felt the desire to serve again as a Crisis Corps volunteer in Thailand after learning about the devastation caused by the tsunami and the need for skilled carpenters. I was able to combine my professional experience with my regular Peace Corps experience to assist in several rebuilding projects.

"I worked in several areas, from helping to build a boatyard that makes traditional long tail boats for fisherman to building permanent housing and furniture. The large amount of construction projects resulted in the shortage of skilled professional carpenters and construction workers.

"Crisis Corps helped to fill this need by sending qualified volunteers to work in collaboration with local counterparts (The Tsunami Volunteer Center Mirror Foundation) in order to meet local needs. The assignment was a very short and intense six months of work in which Crisis Corps volunteers accompliassignment was a very short and intense six months of work in which Crisis Corps volunteers accomplished more than was expected.

"And just like my Peace Corps experience, I felt that I got back just as much or more than I gave."

Where Crisis Corps Has Served

Crisis Corps volunteers have served throughout the world in a variety of capacities. They've served in Europe in both Bosnia (post conflict assistance) and Czechoslovakia (environmental assistance).

In Africa, Crisis Corps volunteers have worked in the fields of humanitarian assistance, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster relief and reconstruction, disaster preparedness and mitigation, post-conflict relief and reconstruction. They have volunteered in Cameroon, Cte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania Togo and Zambia.

In Asia, volunteers have been involved in humanitarian assistance, natural disaster relief and reconstruction in Thailand and Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami. In the Caribbean, Crisis Corps volunteers have worked in humanitarian assistance, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster relief and reconstruction, disaster preparedness and mitigation, post-conflict relief and reconstruction in Antigua, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Montserrat.

Latin America has also benefited enormously from the work of Crisis Corps volunteers. Working in the areas of humanitarian assistance, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster relief and reconstruction, disaster preparedness and mitigation, post-conflict relief and reconstruction, volunteers have served in Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

In the Pacific Islands, volunteers have worked in humanitarian assistance, HIV/AIDS, natural disaster relief and reconstruction, disaster preparedness and mitigation, post-conflict relief and reconstruction in the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and Papua New Guinea.

Since Crisis Corps' inception in 1996, 1000 returned Peace Corps volunteers have taken the opportunity to use their invaluable skills and experience to address ongoing community needs in 42 different countries. Crisis Corps volunteers work on short term projects, utilizing the skills they learned as Peace Corps volunteers and in post service careers. To learn more about the Peace Corps Crisis Corps program, please visit the Crisis Corps section.

Contact Us

All contacts
Call Toll-Free

Get press releases emailed to you right when they are issued.

Sign up now