"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Shutdown isn't stopping this Gov't employee!

Thursday evening here. It’s been a decent week of teaching as well as trying to explain to Ghanaians how it’s possible that such a powerful country like America has a government that shutdown. Some of the teachers didn’t even know it was possible for a government to simply shut down. And honestly, it’s perfectly rational to think that a government, especially one like America’s, cannot possibly shut down. As an employee of the US Government, you may wonder what my job status is. Well, I am still here and still working. The following is an excerpt from the Peace Corps Operations Plan in the Absence of Current Year Appropriations:

5. POLICY

A. Any lapse in funding is expected to be temporary and of short duration. If the Peace Corps were to suspend its operations overseas during a funding hiatus, the health, safety and security of Volunteers would be at serious and immediate risk.1
Furthermore, Volunteers have no means of support without subsistence payments made by the Peace Corps. Therefore, a suspension of overseas operations by the Peace Corps would require the Peace Corps to evacuate all Volunteers and temporarily return them to their homes of record.

It would take between 15 and 30 days to complete the process of evacuating all
Volunteers to their homes of record following the beginning of a funding hiatus. During that period, overseas operations would have to continue to protect the health, safety and security of Volunteers before and during the evacuation and provide Volunteers with subsistence payments until the evacuation is complete. It would cost the U.S. government an average of approximately $3,500 per Volunteer for round trip travel alone to evacuate them to their homes of record and then return them to their sites when the funding hiatus ends. This would amount to approximately $29 million for all Volunteers.

In addition to these direct costs, the U.S. government would lose the value of the
volunteer services being provided by Volunteers for the duration of the funding hiatus. Volunteers make a commitment to serve for 27 months and it would in most cases not be possible to extend their service to make up for any interruption during a funding hiatus. It is estimated that the value of this loss of volunteer services would amount to at least $15 million per month. Finally, there would be significant but unquantifiable intangible losses to the U.S. government since much of the good will that Volunteers have built in their assigned communities during their service would be lost if they are sent back to their homes of record.

In contrast, there would be only minimal savings in operating costs, particularly at the outset, if Volunteers were to be evacuated to their homes of record. Until the evacuation of all Volunteers is completed, the agency would not be able to begin to curtail operations overseas that are reasonably necessary to protect the health, safety and security of Volunteers and living allowance and other subsistence payments to Volunteers would continue. Therefore, if, for example, the funding hiatus lasts only 15 days, there would be no savings of operating expenses overseas, but there would be direct costs to the agency of at least $29 million. Even after all Volunteers are evacuated to their homes of record, it would be necessary to keep some operations in place to protect government property.

Given the significant tangible and intangible costs that would be incurred in evacuating all Volunteers to their homes of record and the minimal savings in operating costs overseas that would be achieved by doing so, evacuating Volunteers and returning them to their homes of record would only be justified by a much more substantial lapse in appropriations than the agency expects. The agency has, therefore, determined that the Peace Corps is not required during a lapse in appropriated funding to take any action to evacuate Volunteers and return them to their homes of record.

The Acting Director has determined that all Peace Corps U.S. direct hire and FSN employees overseas are reasonably necessary for the protection of human life and property and, in particular, are required to ensure the health, safety and security of currently serving Volunteers.

End.

So basically, it would be unsafe if our staff stopped working for us, and it would be too expensive to send us all home for a short time. This is all assuming that the shutdown will not last long. I guess if it is longer than 15 days then something may happen. Come on America, get your act together. My fellow teachers and headmaster are just confused and blown away at the fact that our government can shutdown and we are that gridlocked that we can’t agree on things. It’s slightly embarrassing.

The power has been going out a lot more recently. It was off for a full day for the first time. I can deal with the no lights part of it, but the heat is killer. Without my fans I absolutely roast inside. Also, some of my precious food in the fridge spoils. Then I’m reminded that A) I have electricity to begin with (some volunteers don’t), B) I have fans, and C) I have a fridge. Also, I realized that within the last year, I experienced the power outage in Washington DC that lasted for days. So I guess I really can’t complain about this being a third world problem! Although it does happen much more frequently, and it’s hotter, and my food spoiling is more inconvenient. Oh well.

This week I got to experience the feeling a teacher gets when a get has the “A-HA!” moment from your explanation. When doing practice problems in class I go around and help them, and it feels pretty darn good when you see a kid’s face light up with a big smile as they finally get the concept and can work the problem. Sadly, we’re moving slow and learning basic stuff, but hey, you gotta start somewhere!

I had an interesting taxi experience from the nearby Walewale. It is only about 4 miles away, and sometimes I bike in and other times I pick a taxi. It was the middle of the afternoon, scorching hot, and after a long day of school so I didn’t want to bike. I took a taxi in, ran my errands, and went back to the taxi stand to fill a car. Like always, this takes some time, but finally we got our 7 people to pack into a tiny junker. Two in the front seat and four in the back. Completely uncomfortable and unsafe but that’s just how it works here. Also, the trunks are loaded with huge sacks of corn and who knows what that is being transported from town to village. I don’t know how the cars handle it, because they already seem like they could fall apart if you simply flick them. Well, this time, they couldn’t handle it. Just a bit down the road, we went over some tiny speedbumps. Each baby speedbump is like a huge hurdle for these junkers. It feels like they will crumble when you go over the bumps. We rolled over the first bump and sure enough, we broke down. It took about 20 minutes for another taxi to come pick us up, even though we were not even a mile down the road. We piled into this taxi and were on our way. We hit the next set of speed bumps, and low and behold, this car also broke down! Sidenote: The drivers go to extreme lengths to save gas, such as turning the car off and putting in neutral to coast down the slightest grade, at a measly 15 miles per hour even. Pathetic. Anyway, the second taxi broke down. This time, we were about a mile from home, so a couple of the guys in the car said we should just walk it because another car won’t be able to pick us for awhile, and also it was their way to make a statement to the taxi people. The thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, there simply is nobody to complain to for customer satisfaction. It doesn’t exist. And there is no competition so you can’t choose the other taxi guys or something. You just have to deal with it, and sometimes that means you walk the last mile home. Luckily, about a half mile down, another taxi passed by and picked us.

This little experience also led me to another realization/mindset/perspective. Maybe you all have already picked up on this little strategy in life. I have a little before, but it is hard to always employ, and I strive to approach frustrating situations this way more in the future. As I was sitting there upset and frustrated with two taxis broken down and nothing to do about it, I put my frustrations aside and put myself in the driver’s shoes. I realized what this car breaking down probably meant for him; it probably meant that he will have to use his own time and money to figure out what is wrong with the car. He won’t be able to drive people until it’s fixed, and therefore won’t be making his much-needed money. It may take a few hours, or a few days, but certainly his issue was much larger than my simple issue of getting home a bit late. Next time you’re in a rough situation or unhappy with a service, think about what is happening in the other person’s life and how it is affecting them.


An update on the lack-of-using-new-computers issue here. We have the room where the given laptops will go. We have the necessary “burglar-proof” window cages and locks on doors. We have electricity connected. We don’t have the necessary desks/tables/furniture needed inside. We don’t have voltage regulators to ensure the computers don’t fry. We don’t have the wiring done inside although the room is connected to power. The other issue is that currently this room is used for a primary school classroom. Another structure has to be completed in order to put the primary school kids in that place as their classroom so that the room can be used as the computer lab. Essentially, we need money. We have the computers, modems, and internet plan for a year; those are the big things. Now we just need the finishing touches, but I just know this is going to take forever and isn’t as easy as it sounds. When I get more details on the exact amounts of money we need for the desks and wiring, I will hopefully be able to write a grant and get that going. I have to get these computers in use for the kids! And the Internet would be available to them also for the first year of use. That’s huge considering none of them have ever used a computer and don’t really know what the Internet is. Getting them on computers is not only fun and exciting for them, but also makes them much more capable of getting a job other than being a farmer in the village.

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