Peace Corps volunteers are returning to Nepal

Well, it’s official: Peace Corps is returning to Nepal. Here’s the official press release from Peace Corps, published January 10, 2012. There was also a nice article by VOA about Peace Corps returning to Nepal, Return of Peace Corps to Nepal.

I’m excited. Every time I’ve been back to Nepal since I completed my service in 2004, I’ve wondered, “How fun would it be if I could run in to a group of PCVs?” And I’ve never had that opportunity. And now it looks like I will.

In January 2012, I did a short interview with Dinesh Wagle of Kantipur about my Peace Corps experience—one personal experience in particular, actually. The article is in Nepali. If you can’t read Nepali, then enjoy the photographs. (I’m in the red shirt with the bald head.) Enjoy: Peace Corps returns to Nepal.

Peace Corps/Nepal suspended

After two bombs exploded at the American Center in Kathmandu, throwing shrapnel here and there, Peace Corps decided to suspend its program in Nepal.

This is the first time that Peace Corps has suspended its program in Nepal, which had run continuously for 42 years. That’s thousands of PCVs having served in Nepal and returned home to tell others of their experiences.

But, more importantly, what does this mean for our well loved staff of Peace Corps/Nepal? Much uncertainty, I’m sure. Very sad news indeed.

Peace Corps Suspends Program in Nepal

Washington, DC, September 13, 2004 — Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez today announced the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Nepal effective immediately.

The Peace Corps has had a successful 42-year program in Nepal, making great strides in the areas of small business development, education, environment, youth development and working on health and HIV/AIDS education and awareness. The safety and security of the volunteer is the number one priority of the Peace Corps and in light of the current conditions in Nepal, suspension of the program is a necessary action, said Peace Corps Director Vasquez.

Currently, Peace Corps volunteers are being consolidated.

The Peace Corps program in Nepal began in 1962. Since then, more than 4,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in the East Asian country.

My group, Nepal 194, will become the last PCVs to COS in country. I hope that not too much times passes before another group of PCVs is able to have the Peace Corps experience in Nepal.

Looking back on my service, I realize how damn lucky I was. Everything finished according to plan. Fast forward to five months later, and PCVs are waiting around a five-star hotel in Kathmandu for boarding passes for flights to Thailand, where they will spend a week or so on their COS and debriefing, i.e., ending their service.

Well, maybe I wasn’t totally lucky. That is one adventure I never experienced.

A description of a service

Below is a copy of my Description of Service, or DOS. Every Peace Corps volunteer files a DOS at the end of service, whether it be an early termination or the conventional COS. This document remains with Peace Corps as it kept as the official record of my Peace Corps experience.

But it doesn’t express what my experience has meant to me and only concerns my experiences in the Peace Corps related to my project goals. So a lot of my actual experience—good or bad—won’t be found here. Note that the odd, third-person language is just the DOS is filed.

Description of Peace Corps Volunteer Service

Scott Allan Wallick — Nepal/194

After completing a competitive application processes stressing applicant skills, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding, Mr. Scott Allan Wallick was invited into Peace Corps service. He was assigned for his first year of service to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at the primary level and for the second year to work as an English Language Teacher Trainer (ELTT) with primary-level English teachers.

Wallick entered Peace Corps’ pre-service training (PST) on February 23, 2002, participating in an intensive, 11-week program in Nawalparasi district, Nepal. Language training included 135 hours of Nepali (speaking, reading, writing) and 12 hours of spoken Hindi. Technical training included 110 hours of methodology, educational systems, and other large-class, low/no-cost materials strategies. As a part of technical training, Wallick completed 6 days of practice teaching two 4th and 5th grade English classes.

In addition to language and technical training, Wallick also completed 30 hours of health and medical training focusing on self-diagnosis and self-medication, 30 hours of cross-cultural and community activities, including English and math tutoring, and 17 hours of safety and security training, focusing on historical and current implications of Nepal’s Maoist insurgency.

Wallick successfully completed training and was sworn-in as a Peace Corps volunteer on May 8, 2002. For his first year of service, he was assigned to Sri Sundarmal Ramkumarji Kanya MV (secondary school) in Birganj, Parsa district, Nepal, where he was one of 22 faculty members. The girls’ school, with an enrollment of over 450 students, offered eleven grades of study. Wallick was assigned to His Majesty’s Government’s (HMG) Ministry of Education and reported directly to the school’s headsir, Hari Krishnore Misra.

Wallick was responsible for the HMG’s mandated English curriculum for the 4th and 5th grades, teaching 12 hours per week for 9 months (over 300 hours of instruction), a full school year. For his first year, Wallick’s primary responsibilities included curriculum development, lesson planning, constructing and administering exams, monitoring and evaluating students, and preparing the students’ end-term grades. Wallick shared all faculty responsibilities and also taught a computer literacy class to the faculty for 2 hours per week for three weeks.

For Wallick’s second year of Peace Corps service, he was assigned to the District Education Office of Parsa district, located in Birganj, where he reported directly to the District Education Officer, Yogendra Bahadur Basnet. Wallick was responsible for holding bi-monthly teacher trainings for a cluster of schools comprising 26 primary-level English teachers. Prior to the beginning of this second year project, Wallick worked with 11 other N/194 ELTTs to create the program’s curriculum, including structures, functions, educational topics, and monitoring and evaluation tools.

During his second year, Wallick instructed 26 teachers during 30 hours of formal sessions and provided over 200 hours of on-site assistance to the teachers individually at their schools. His major responsibilities during this program were to monitor and evaluate the progress of the teachers as well as the ELTT program (Peace Corps/Nepal’s first), design sessions based on the ELTT curriculum, provide specific support and generate motivation to the teachers, assist the teachers with classroom management, and provide and model EFL methodology.

In addition to his primary first- and second-year responsibilities, Wallick also organized and facilitated two teacher trainings at other Peace Corps volunteers’ sites. He created the curriculum for a seven-day teacher training (21 hours of instruction) in far-western Nepalgunj. The training was designed for non-teachers, as the school was also an orphanage and the teachers were volunteers.

He designed and co-executed a four-day, two module teacher training in Dharan, located in the mid-hills of eastern Nepal. The first two days (7 hours) were a general training for the school’s faculty (eight teachers and a headsir), focused on developing student/teacher relationships and expectations and establishing rules and consequences. The other two days (7 hours) were for a cluster of 14 primary-level English teachers and focused on effectiveness methods for teaching English speaking, reading, and writing skills.

At the request of Peace Corps/Nepal’s training office, Wallick assisted during two other PSTs (N/196 and N/198), instructing Peace Corps trainees (PCT) on Nepali educational systems, teaching strategies, and classroom management, for 22 hours, including example teaching four 4th and 5th grade classes for PCTs’ observation. He also mentored two PCTs during their practice teaching, providing pre- and in-class support for over 6 hours to each individual.

On two other occasions, Wallick was asked by the training office to assist during in-service trainings (IST). He facilitated a 3-hour session on classroom management during the N/194 IST. He also facilitated 6 hours of sessions during the N/196 IST, including a review of the ELTT curriculum and second-year planning for their second year.

Peace Corps/Nepal’s training office also asked Wallick on two occasions to locate and analyze potential sites for volunteer work placement. Wallick selected two schools after conducting interviews with the faculties and analyzing the schools’ data. Two volunteers were later placed in both schools and completed their first year assignments successfully and with positive experiences.

Wallick planned and organized various secondary projects while full-filling his primary project goals. He planned two children’s day camps at schools for disadvantaged communities during the 2002 and 2003 International Children’s Days. During his first year at Sri Sundarmal Ramkumarji Kanya MV, he created and mentored a girls’ club for three months, which meet weekly for 2 hours.

He provided logistical and technical support to two other PCVs for a daylong HIV/AIDS awareness rally in Jhapa district, far-eastern Nepal. Wallick also was responsible for communicating information between the office and 22 volunteers as a regional warden. As warden, Wallick received over 5 hours of training in emergency preparedness and “what if” scenarios concerning the safety and possible evacuation of those 22 volunteers from the country.

At the completion of his service, a certified Foreign Service Institute examiner tested Mr. Scott Allan Wallick and he scored an ‘advanced’ in spoken Nepali.

Pursuant to Section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act 22 USC. 2504(f), as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following his Peace Corps Volunteer Service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave, and other privileges based on length of Government service. That service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary trial period of any service requirement for career appointment.

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order 11103 of April 10, 1963, that Mr. Scott Allan Wallick served successfully as a Peace Corps Volunteer. His service ended on April 7, 2004. He is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order extends for a period of one year after termination of Volunteer service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities which, in the view of the appointing agency, warrants extension of the period.

Last words from Birganj

It’s early still, but the warmth of my bedroom wakes me not long after the sun has risen. I roll out of bed, walk over to the kitchen, and begin making coffee. I turn on my shortwave to the BBC and listen as I pour my coffee, stopping to rub the sleep out of my eyes.

As I sip, I look through my window to the wreckage of the abandoned dry port of Nepal. I can hear someone singing in a temple through a loudspeaker. The sites and the sounds make this place beautiful.

This is my last day in Birganj.

Moments later, I’m at Himanchal Cabin, looking over the Kathmandu Post and Himalayan Times with yet another cup of coffee and eggs and toast on the way.

With the kids working here, I joke and answer questions about the photos in the papers. They know me and sit at my table when they have downtime. I have known many of them for more than a year, a few for more than two.

After breakfast, I walk across Maisthan past the newspaper man who waves to me from his shop. I wave back.

Further down the block, there is a man who sits on his patio with a radio held to his ear. I have seen him nearly everyday since I coming to Birganj. His hair is now shoulder length.

I have never met him or spoke to him, but every time we see one another we mouth, Namaste.

I turn west for one block, and then south one more block to the Internet cafe. As soon as I walk in, the young computer nerd turns on a computer and I wait for it to boot.

After a moment, I log on and read my emails. The keyboard totters and bangs loudly on the uneven desk as I type. I send a few emails and then sign-off. I’m there for just 15, 20 minutes.

Outside, I jump on a rickshaw and head back north past Maisthan, the clock tower, and my neighborhood, Ranighat, towards the water tank area, Murli Gardens, my previous neighborhood.

I get off in front of my first flat and immediately notice that nothing looks different, except that someone else’s laundry hangs from my balcony. This is me. I am coming, I am going.

Rajesh and his family make lunch, Nepali daal bhat, and we sit together, eating lunch and drinking whiskey, perhaps a bit early. This is a goodbye I knew would be hard. I have a little whiskey and realize all those misunderstandings were my misunderstanding.

A flood of memories pours over me, and I feel shame thinking of their patience and friendliness towards me. All I do, though, is compliment the food and ask for another drink, smiling.

Two hours are gone and, as I walk back towards the main road, I stop at Mira’s for tea and a scolding. It has been nearly a week since my last visit, a period of absence that they find entirely unacceptable, and I smile as they hassle me. Still smiling, I ask for a biscuit with my tea. They tell me not to leave. They say I will forget them.

Mira, who gave me bhai tikka, I won’t forget you.

I know that in small ways, I will remember them, but I will probably never see them again.

They opened their home to me. I feel that my friendship and occasional gifts were completely inadequate, so I almost wish they would hassle me more. They don’t. They just give me more tea.

After I finish prolonged goodbyes, I walk to Ashish’s. He lives where a British VSO once lived. She was a friend and showed me much of Birganj.

Now Ashish lives in her flat. I think about my flat and the Australian who lived there before me. I wonder if this cyclical nature of volunteers coming, working, and leaving is good. We fly in, from far away places, try our best to improve things, and then leave just as suddenly as we came. Again and again.

There are already several volunteers from out of town at Ashish’s for the big farewell party. Oh, and St. Patrick’s Day.

There’s green Carlsberg beer ready and water buffalo meat cooking. Just after dark, the music gets louder and the dancing begins. This has happened so many times that I can’t help but be sad to know that this, again, is a last.

Before it’s too late, I walk alone back to my flat. The streets are empty and the houses are dark. I notice (as I always have) how the fluorescent lights hanging as along the way eerily illuminate the crumbling streets and gloomy homes.

It’s beautiful. I walk across the abandoned dry port, past a building that was bombed by Maoists, arrive in Ranighat and finally home.

As soon as I walk in, I notice my packed bag sitting in the kitchen, waiting for tomorrow’s departure. I can’t sleep, so I go to the roof to look over sleeping Ranighat.

I can’t look in any direction without remembering encounters with people, street food I ate, places I went and others I didn’t, the houses of kids I knew. They will not see me again, and soon I won’t remember many of them.

The next morning, I get in a jeep headed to the airport. After a few moments, we are outside of Birganj and passing through places like Parwanipur, Jitpur, and finally Simra.

This may or may not have happened.

I may not see the clock tower and think, This is a last. I may not notice the Bollywood movie posters that used to catch my eye.

This part of my life is over (or rather ending very soon), and I will never live again in this city full of contradictions—and that makes me sad. Very.

But a new chapter in my life is opening, and I’m turning the page, anxious for a new beginning.

Peace Corps volunteer safety and security

The last thing that I wrote about safety and security got my Web site shut down by the Peace Corps Washington, DC, office.

Perhaps it’s just a coincident that my predictions (or rather, intelligence collected) about the security situation in the Rautahaut, Bara, and Parsa districts have come true, much to the frustration of the Peace Corps Kathmandu office. Not that it matters.

The fact is that we PCVs are ourselves responsible for our safety. How can someone expect someone else to take care of them?

So let me explain the situation.

Since December 19, 2003, when I wrote an post for this blog titled Bombs Over Birganj, there have been around 18 bombs detonated in the Birganj and Kalaiya areas, all by Maoists or Maoist affiliates.

There was also a large attack by ‘several hundred’ Maoists on the airport in Simra (the local airport for Birganj, about 12 km north).

The office where I work, the District Education Office, was bombed on February 18, 2004.

Fortunately, I was not at the office that day. I was in Kathmandu finishing my close-of-service medical checkup.

There had been two bandhas while I was in Kathmandu, so everything took a bit longer than it should have; however, this is the way of Nepal nowadays, and so one must just get used to the on-off tendencies of the country.

One day things are on, the next they’re off.

When I arrived at the Kathmandu airport on February 21, 2003, I checked in at the counter and went into the waiting area past security to wait for my flight.

As soon as I was inside, a friend who works for another airline told me that because of a ‘security problem,’ a previous flight had been unable to land in Simra. He didn’t provide, perhaps because he didn’t know, many details but assured me that my flight would be canceled. I waited.

Ten minutes after my flight was supposed to leave, an announcement over the loudspeaker said that all persons flying to Simra should return to the check-in desks. We were told that the flights to Simra were canceled, as said before, because of a now mysterious security problem.

I had just heard, while in Kathmandu that the DEO had been bombed, so I was a bit nervous. I called the Peace Corps duty officer and asked them to do a little research on the security problem in Simra and get back to me before I rescheduled my flight.

When the duty officer called me back, he told me that there had been a total of eight bombs planted along the runway in Simra. He didn’t know what type of bombs they were, just that the army was in the process of safely defusing/detonating them.

He then suggested that I wait until a few other planes had landed safely in Simra before taking a flight back. I agreed.

So one day later (and after two other planes landed safely), I boarded a plane bound for Simra. The flight was rough and I was wondering if it was the weather or the pilot’s preoccupation with possible land mines on the runway.

Once at the Simra airport, I was present when the Minister of Information (then Kamal Thapa) was arriving. The first person to exit the plane was a fatigued soldier carrying an M-16. And so was the second and then third person, until Kamal Thapa himself emerged.

Even I thought this was strange.

Back in Birganj, I stopped by an airline’s office to talk with a friend working there to see if I could get some answers about what had happened the day before at the Simra airport. They told me that five minutes after their plane had left Kathmandu for Simra, the bombs had been discovered.

The flight time between Kathmandu and Simra is about 15 minutes.

Early on the day I was flying to Simra, I ate some sekuwa near the airport, and then walked my way up to the terminals, which takes about than 10 minutes.

As I was walked to the airport, the army folks were off to the side of the road where usually stand RNA guards. Next to them were three kids, about 13 or 14 years old, standing on their heads with their shoes off. One of the army guys was beating the kids’ bare feet with a rod of some sort.

They waved me by without asking for my ticket or ID, which is the standard procedure. I stopped for a moment and asked what was happening. The army man in charge of beating feet told me that the kids were naughty. I asked why.

Because they don’t have jobs, he informed me, his frustration with the children palpable.

I thought about the kids, Maoists, and bombs at my airport.

About a week ago in Kalaiya, the army murdered two civilians in their homes, and then took their bodies to the jungle where they were buried.

Family and other folks found out about this and went into the jungle, found the buried bodies, dug them up, and marched in the main bazaar in Kalaiya, putting the bodies on display and rallying in front of the army barracks.

The people called a bandha and there was some confrontation with the police and the army, ending with the army lining up and firing blanks at the crowd, injuring 15 people.

This is how you win the people’s support, right?

Since December 2003, there have been two bombs at the army barracks and another at a police station in Kalaiya.

The number of reported cases by Nepali media of the police or army killing civilians in Nepal has been increasing every day. Stories of rape, murder, and extortion are beginning to appear with disappointing regularity in the newspapers.

Three kids were killed in Narayanghat on Maha Shivaratri. A while ago in Hetauda, a bus conductor was shot through the chest and killed by an army man who apologized on the spot, saying he had accidentally aimed the gun and pulled the trigger.

After seeing those army men beating those three kids, I think that the army cannot exist like it does without the Maoists, just as the Maoists couldn’t exist without the army being the way it is.

Somehow I forgot to mention this. Forgetting to mention something like this suggests something about how we all feel here in Nepal: safe.

Yet it is a safety borne out of complacency and a feeling of invincibility that most PCVs here feel. I think that the the thing we overlook is that the people who we are working with here just can’t leave the country if things get too bad.

Anyhow, when I got back from the training in Dharan, I was walking to my flat when I noticed a building about 200 meters from where I live looking quite a bit different.

I though, Oh, this must be getting demolished.

Later I asked a local what was happening with the building and he told me that it had been bombed a few nights ago.

Even tonight I walked by that building. Bricks are strewn about the road in front and the one side of the building is mostly exposed.

It was an empty, government building just sitting in a field—across from the the army barracks in Birganj. Why would the Maoists blow-up an old, abandoned government building that’s across the street from the army barracks?

I guess because they can.