Volunteers reflect on leaving Honduras

In December, the Peace Corps announced it has temporarily suspended volunteer operations in Honduras while it conducts a review of the safety and security environment, according to a Peace Corps press release.

UA Peace Corps volunteers who were sent to Honduras before the governmental decision to withdrawal said they understand, but also said that it is unfortunate for both volunteers and Hondurans.

Gabriel Sidman, a natural resources graduate student, spent about two years in Honduras living in a small rural town located on top of a mountain. There he sold organic coffee, helped a women’s artisan group and taught ecotourism.

“I think pulling out of Honduras will have an impact, in the sense that there will be a lot of smaller communities that don’t have as much aid,” Sidman said. “There will be less options for Hondurans, in terms of if they want to get a project done, where do they go?”

Although most people were welcoming and hospitable, there was a need to assume some people had bad intentions, Sidman said. Once, while traveling on a bus, Sidman was almost robbed. Another time, a murder occurred in a public place in his town.

“Sometimes things can happen where you get involved indirectly — you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Sidman added. “It’s not something that makes you feel unsafe, but it does happen rarely.”

Despite these incidents, Sidman said that people should not view Honduras as a dangerous and violent country. While living there, he said he felt like a community member and only once out of the countless times he rode the bus did an incident occur.

Heide Bruckner, who started the geography and development master’s program in August, was sent to Honduras in July 2009 where she worked on a composting project, a home garden project for women and a library project. She served until last August, and while she was there, the people were warm and welcoming, she said.

“I think it’s sad that Peace Corps in Honduras was temporarily shut down, but I understand the reason,” Bruckner said. “At the same time, I never felt unsafe and I think most volunteers don’t have extreme safety and security incidents.”

The danger to travel through major cities, and the country’s high homicide rate, were all likely factors in the decision to pull out of Honduras, Bruckner added.

There was no specific incident that spurred the Peace Corps to suspend operations in Honduras, according to the Peace Corps website, but after reviewing safety data the program decided a more in-depth assessment was necessary.

Currently, there are 71 UA alumni serving in other countries, according to Aaron Hoholik, the Peace Corps recruiter for the UA and Southern California.

Bruckner, who is a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow, said that the program provides her with a sense of community and allows her to serve Tucson. The fellowship offers financial assistance to returned Peace Corps volunteers and is one of the largest in the country. Her time volunteering with the Peace Corps has had an impact on her perspective and is something she believes more people should get involved with, she said.

“I think it (volunteering) made me more hopeful about the types of projects people are involved with and the dedication communities have towards working towards a better future,” she said. “At the same time, it also has made me more skeptical about what the role of development intervention can be and the bigger social inequalities of our world.”

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