PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS IN CENTRAL AMERICA HELP WITH RELIEF EFFORTS
November 6, 1998Washington, D.C., November 6, 1998—Peace Corps volunteers in Central America have been assisting with relief efforts to help victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch—distributing packages of food, clothes, blankets and medicine, working in orphanages, and helping organize reconstruction of homes.
"Our volunteers live in these communities, so they have seen first-hand the phenomenal devastation wreaked by Mitch. They have jumped in and helped immensely," said Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan.
"The firefighters were doing work right now, so we went to work with them," said Peace Corps volunteer Michele Conyer of Columbus, Ind., who is serving in Nicaragua near the Honduras border. Conyer and four other Peace Corps volunteers were welcomed onto a 40-person bombero (firefighter) crew that collected, loaded, and delivered 15 tons of relief supplies to the 10,000 stranded residents of San Francisco Libre, a town on the northern shore of Lake Managua.
More than 600 Peace Corps volunteers were serving in five Central American countries when Mitch hit. Every single volunteer has been contacted and all are safe.
In Honduras, volunteers assisted with relief efforts before being relocated to Panama, beginning yesterday and today because of concerns over their health and safety. Volunteer Daria Topousis of Los Angeles and others had been working in orphanages and doing other relief work in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
In Guatemala and El Salvador, volunteers helped local and international organizations separate donated clothes, food, bedding material, medical supplies, toys and miscellaneous items, which were then loaded onto trucks and planes for distribution to the most severely damaged regions.
Volunteers around the region are also working with relief efforts by distributing food, aiding refugees, and manning soup kitchens. Many have also contacted relief agencies to request or arrange delivery of aid to their own villages and towns.
In addition to the Peace Corps volunteers currently serving, the director of Peace Corps' Crisis Corps program has been in the region this week to assess the damage and determine how Crisis Corps volunteers can help. The Crisis Corps is a new program in which experienced Peace Corps volunteers provide short-term disaster relief and humanitarian aid. Hundreds of former Peace Corps volunteers who served in the region have contacted the agency to volunteer with Crisis Corps.
While waiting for relief supplies to arrive in their areas, some volunteers are looking for other ways to help. "We are now aware of other needs, such as alleviating the frustration felt from living in a refugee center, so we have been playing games with the children and visiting with their families," volunteers Danelle Duckworth of San Diego and Adam Padd of Lakewood, N.Y., wrote in an e-mail from Nicaragua.
"From our point of view, the major effects of this disaster are the complete destruction of the homes of these people," they wrote. "Their lives can be sustained in the refugee center for some time, but they will soon need to turn to a more sustainable living environment. It appears that the transportation avenues are being taken care of and we believe that efforts need to be taken to organize reconstruction of lost homes throughout Central America. The situation is slowly getting better because of the participation of the affected households, communities, and nations.
Other Peace Corps volunteers have been bagging food and clothes at the Red Cross in Nicaragua and other collection points, and communicating with family members in the United States by phone and e-mail.
"I want them to know what's going on hereÐwhat's really going on, and how tragic the situation is," said volunteer Emmanuelle Rapicavoli of Mill Valley, Calif., typing away on the computer in the Peace Corps office in Managua. "I wanake this more personal for my friends and family and let them know how they can help."
ake this more personal for my friends and family and let them know how they can help."