Burengiin Nuruu Mountain Range

Burengiin Nuruu Mountain Range

History of the Peace Corps Program in Mongolia

Peace Corps began its program in Mongolia in 1991, the same year the US Embassy opened in Ulaanbaatar, the nation’s capital city. Since then, over 600 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Mongolia as English language teachers trainers, English teachers, community economic developers, environmental educators, and health educators. I will be a member of the 18th group of Volunteers to serve in Mongolia and the 3rd group of Community Youth Development Volunteers (the 1st CYD Trainees came to Mongolia in June of 2005).

Country Assignment

  • Country: Mongolia (Outter)
  • Program: Youth Development
  • Job Title: Life Skills Trainer (also: English teacher, Child Caretaker, Fund Raiser, Events Organizer, and IT Trainer)
  • Orientation (Staging in Atlanta, GA): May 31-June 2, 2007
  • Pre-Service Training (in Darkhan and Sukhbaatar, Mongolia): June 3-August 18, 2007
  • Dates of Service (in Darkhan at Sun Children formerly "Asian Child Foundation" - a non-profit, non-government Japanese funded orphanage of 37 Mongolian children opened since 8/25/2005): August 19, 2007- August 18, 2009

Location and Nature of the Job

CYD Volunteers are placed in provincial centers with population between 15,000 and 70,000. A few CYD Volunteers are placed in Ulaanbaatar, where the population is reaching 1 million. I will work with youth-focused NGOs, children’s centers, schools, and civil society organizations to address major challenges confronting Mongolian youth today, such as education, life skills, employability, and leadership. In addition, the work will involve workshops and presentations at schools and community agencies and will entail traveling to other outlying communities that have less access to information and training. Given the vast distances in Mongolia, these visits will often require overnight stays.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Arrived, Travelled, Applied to Graduate Schools, Back in Asia

I write to you jet lagged and sleepy from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I arrived the day before yesterday. This is the first time I've been back to Vietnam since I immigrated to the States in 1985. Busier than I remember, the city has grown 10x the size I left it swelling to 10 million. Let me back track a few months. I returned to the States in July and proceeded to travel stateside for 2.5 months visiting friends and family in Philadelphia, PA; NYC, NY; Orange County, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Puerto Penasco, Mexico; Omaha, NE; Sioux City, IA; Chicago, IL; St. Louis, MO; Las Vegas, Montezuma and Ghost Ranch, NM; Miami and West Palm Beach, FL and roadtrip from Miami-DC stopping by Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and the Outer Banks, NC. I was feed, spoiled, showed off, and decorated in new American apparel. I return to DC in mid-Sept pre-occupied and focused on applications to graduate schools for a Masters in International Relations with concentration in Development and/or Southeast Asia. The latter took longer than I expected and I didn't end up heading back to Asia for another 1.5 months.

I'm currently back in Asia, specifically Southeast Asia to do short-term international development projects with grassroots organizations in the area. I had emailed out a cold-cover letters to hand-picked organizations detailing my background and skills set in development especially in the area of vulnerable women and children. I highlighted my recent Peace Corps experience in Mongolia, my application to MA IR programs in Development with focus in SE Asia, and expressed the desire to witness first-hand the development issues that are affecting the local people in the region rather than just learn the economic theories behind development while in school. I asked if I could volunteer my time to their organization for a short period of 30 days (pre-determined by most visas). Let me just note that this request turned out more difficult to fulfill then I had thought. Piggybacking on ecotourism, the notion of paid volunteerism has grown popular. International to grassroots organizations are profiting on the fad to charge, on the average $1000/week for “volunteer” work. Needless to say, coming from a recent Peace Corps salary, I was not the ideal target. However, I was not about to be falter. My remedy to this situation was to harp on my networking skills. This paid off; I received direct recommendations to grassroots organizations that people I knew either volunteered at, knew someone who did, or knew the person in the organization. I can’t tell you how much this saved my plans.

I am in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam until next week when I will travel to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to assist the Sao Sary Foundation (SSF) with their Child Abuse Prevention week from November 13-19. I will be assisting with their Child Protection Program as well as assist in grant writing for the 2010 fiscal year. I will be volunteering with
them Nov-13-Dec 4. Details: Sao Sary Foundation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Child Protection Program
http://ssfcambodia.org/index.php?page=child-protection-program

Dec 7-Jan 4, I will be in Chang Mai, Thailand assisting the Children's Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA) with their recently built Bann Yuu Suk shelter for sexually exploited, abused and at-risk girls. There, I will be assisting them with implementing vocational and Life Skills training. They also want me to counsel the girls and assist
with mental health training programs for the shelter as well as the community in Chang Mai. Details: COSA in Chang Mai, Thailand http://www.cosasia.org/shelter2009.htm

Additionally, I am currently considering a position at VOICE in Siem Reap, Cambodia at their new shelter for trafficking Vietnamese girls into Cambodia to begin Jan 2010. Additional information can be found at: http://www.vietnamvoice.org/Cambodia.html. It’s a fantastic opportunity this early in my development career. However, there are a few issues that I have to mull over before I can accept the position:

1) safety in terms of the subject matter and country location;

2) the pay is local standards not expat; and 3) I will have to defer from
graduate school for a year (VOICE feels that 8 mos commitment is not enough time to start a shelter and build the relationships ties that it would take to make it successful). I will be looking at a 1.5 year commitment until July 2011.

Any thoughts and/or advice?


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Contracted Into a Corner

Let me try to answer some of your questions and update you on the pending situation.

1. How much more of your service do you have left? My COS (Completion of Service) date is August 18, 2009 (I arrived here June 4, 2007), however, I can leave as early as July 17, 2009. Therefore, I have about 6.5/7.5 months left in my service.

2. How would Early Termination (ET) affect you? What are the consequences and how would this affect your future job opportunities and/or career goals? If I ET, I would have to depart Mongolia immediately on the first flight back to my home of record (Sioux City, IA). Additionally, I loose all the benefits that would come if I were to complete my 27mos service. This includes: a year of non-competitive status when applying for employment in a federal position, a year of decreased cost of world-wide health insurance ($110/mo), eligibility in the various Masters International fellowships/grants that is associated with Peace Corps (specific programs in Public Health, Education, Agriculture, etc.), and, of course, a deduction of my $6000 resettlement allowance (which would be $4500 if I were to leave 6/7 months early. If I were to Field Termination (leave Peace Corps but able to remain Mongolia), I would lose all the above benefits, plus my work visa, and would not be given a free ticket back to the US or money in lieu of a ticket. Additionally, I would have to wait a period in order to receive any of my earned resettlement allowance.

Professionally, I don't think there would be negative repercussions if I were to leave Peace Corps 20 months into my service and/or if I were to apply to a government position in the future. 20 months is a significant amount of service already served; I would still include my service on my resume. As for the lost of benefits, Field Termination is not a likely option for I would loose a ticket home. I am not too worried about health insurance for I am still young and healthy (the coast is clear after Bangkok). The Masters International program is for specific programs or universities that I am not interested in (Master programs in International Relations in Western Europe and the East Coast are where my education interests lay). The only concern is the lost of money and, mostly, the lost of a non-competitive status in this hard economic time; federal jobs are more stable (and would be easier to obtain with a non-competitive status).

3. What are your responsibilities as a PCV? Are the wants of your agency within those responsibilities? To quote post (PC-Mongolia), my responsibilities as a PCV is up to the agency for "what the agency wants is what PC wants." There are guidelines, yes, but those guidelines are merely that. For instance, my home is supposed to be only 500 yards or less from my place of work, instead, it is a 45-minute walk (which gets very and tiring in the winter). I am only supposed to teach 8hrs/wk of English a week as a non-TELF volunteer, however, I teach 10 hrs/wk plus 6hrs/wk of TELF to the Director's son. I am supposed to work 30hrs/wk, but for the first 9 mos, I worked 40hrs/wk. I am supposed to work directly with another counter-part (co-worker, as to establish/enhance CP development) but ever since I started 20mos ago, all my daily teachings (with the exception of big projects) have been alone. Most volunteers only work Mon-Fri but for a period of time, my HCA had me working Saturdays. PC is aware of these things but, like I said, these guidelines are merely that, guidelines.

4. Have you talked to your fellow PCVs about your situation? Yes, I have talked to several of my fellow PCVs about my situation. I am not the first person within my M18 group nor Community Youth Development (CYD) group (7 originally, 5 remaining) that have quit or been fired from their HCAs. Unfortunately, most of the change in HCAs was a result of the PCV being fired from their agencies. Only in one case was the PCV allowed to quit. Just within my CYD sector (which is only in its 4th year), 2 PCVs have ET and 2 have changed agencies. Ironic isn't it that I would only be granted my wish to leave my agency (even part-time) only if I were bad enough to fire but not if I felt abusive?

5. To what point are you willing to bear the situation? Is it worth it? Is it possible to fight through the remaining time of your service or is the situation truly unbearable? Being a non-novice to abusive environments, I disagree with PC in their statement that a "hostile work environment for 10 hours a week is the same as 30 hours" (their reaction to my request to work part-time if I were not allowed to leave the HCA completely). This situation of continued micromanagement and verbal abuse has been ongoing for the past 10 months. I have talked to the Country Director (CD), written a proposal, met with perspective agencies as requested by the CP, had a meeting with higher management at post, and had a meeting to draft an "agreement" with my director, and even contacted PC Headquarters for advice/assistance. Throughout, I have been extremely flexible offering part-time if not complete separation from the HCA and even agreed to continue agreement discussions even though I was not informed of PC's decision to take off complete and/or partial HCA separation from the negotiations until I mentioned them at the agreement meeting. I have exhausted my options of what I can do in my limited status as a volunteer.

A summary: my call to the CD was made on 12/8/2009 after another verbal abuse incident. Perspective HCAs were contacted and met with during 12/9-12/12 at the request of the CD. A proposal was submitted on 12/15 at the request of the CD. A meeting with senior administrative staff to discuss the issue was on 12/15. A meeting with senior administrative staff with PCV present to personally defend her proposal was on 12/19. A meeting to draft an agreement between HCA director and PCV was on 12/22. A draft agreement has been pasted back and forth since 12/24.

The result: at the administrative meeting with the PCV, they rejected all my perspective HCAs and alternatives, stated that this type of authoritative and micro management style was a cultural difference and is a commonality among all Mongolian directors ("what makes you think that other directors would behave the same way if we let you switch agencies?"), and (in after I had left) denied my alterative to work part-time stating that "a hostile work environment for 10 hours is the same as a hostile work environment for 30 hours". Additionally, they wanted a meeting with the director and myself to draft an agreement.

The current situation: the said agreement is being passed back and forth for revisions because mostly because PC and I do not agree on the current consequences for breech of contact. A snippet of my latest communication with the Peace Corps Training Officer (PTO):

"Additionally, I want a guarantee from PC a similar administrative action for both parties in the case of a beech of contract. If I am facing possible Administrative Separation (a greater blemish on my professional resume than if I were to resign), then she too should face the same consequences such as a lost of a Peace Corps replacement volunteer for one year (I left this part for you to rewrite as I am not entirely satisfied with the current statement). I only have 7 months left of my service, thus, if a beech in contact will first be addressed in a conversation between the Director and I, followed by mediation with PC before these final actions take place, there will be no time for PC to find me a "suitable" replacement HCA. As you state, PC has to take into account "HCA counterparts, ability for capacity building, opportunity for primary goal work, and months left in service." Hence, I will be facing the possibility of Interrupted Service. As the agreement currently stands, I feel that I am being chastised for bringing the situation of a hostile work environment to your attention. I am agreeing to continue my association with my current HCA full-time (30 hours/week) despite the undoubted long lasting effects of such mental and emotional distress but would only do such if I was guaranteed that my Director not verbally abuse or continue such hostile work environment in the future. I respectfully request that you provide a revised consequence of breech of contract seeing as I desire to complete my term as a PCV."

In conclusion, family and friends, you might be seeing me again sooner than expected.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To quit or not to quit? That is the question.

Happy Holidays from the land of the bluest skies. It's those blue skies that bamboozle me into thinking the day is warmer than it really is. A recap. China in October was hectic trying to visit 9 cities in 21 days but it was a memorable experience; the culture, the food, the atmosphere from cities to villages. The only city I didn't care too
much for was Shanghai. I found it dirty and boring, although, it did have the best-bootlegged DVDs that I've encounter. I saw "Millers Crossing", "Johnny Basso", and "The 7th Seal" among other classics. I got back to UB to watch the elections at an open house for Americans hosted by the US Embassy. That election left me speechless still does.
After, I found out that I had to fly to Bangkok for a medical procedure that turned into two procedures and extended my stay for 12 days. I left four days before the "sit-in" protest happened at the airport. The extension may had something to do with major travel mishaps such as losing my plane ticket and having to fly directly back to Beijing from UB as the plane was about to touch down because of "smog." By the time I returned to Mongolia, it had been 7 weeks since I had last been at my site. Odd how I felt sitting in 95F degree weather in Bangkok wishing to return to Mongolia (and the cold). Everything turned out fine after the procedures but it was a potentially serious issue.

I returned back to site only to fall into the same hostile work environment sustained by my authoritative director. Mongolian directors have excessively much power here and get drunk on it. I decided that after 7 weeks away from site with 2 of that in the hospital, I wasn't about to come back and be yelled at like an irresponsible 17-year-old, so I called Peace Corps and asked if I could quit my agency and not have to Early Terminate. Despite the immense love for my children and co-workers, my director's micro management and overbearing presence has become intolerable. And, just like typical Peace Corps they wanted to have meetings and "discuss the options" and be diplomatic. After three weeks, we are still "discussing" it. Its bullshit. She has the choice to fire me at anytime. Federal law states that when en employee is in a hostile work environment, they have the option to switch departments within the company without quitting. I should be able to keep my federal rights as a citizen even after crossing country borders since I am still working for an American agency and a federal one at that. Sadly, the realization that I am not an employee but a volunteer, subject to one and one decision only, the decision to quit or not to quit, nothing more. So, after three meetings, one proposal and an agreement later, I am at that point, should I or should I not quit early? Advice on the situation if you were me?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Med-Evc to Bangkok, Thailand

Being med-evc to Bangkok, Thailand for "additional tests" had it's advantages.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vacation After 6 Months at Site

After the kids returned to school in beginning of Sept, my job has become fairly easy and much more relaxing. September went by without much work; the children and teachers were busy building a new haasha fence and remodeling one of the buildings on the orphanage compound in time for a week-long visit from our Japanese sponsor organization. Then it was preparing for a 3-week visit to 4 various parts of Japan to preform 4 concerts. 18 children, 4 teachers, and the Director will be in Japan Nov 3-20. The remaining children and teachers will make a
trip in Mar. I'm crossing my fingers that I am included in the count. Wouldn't that be a wonderful peak of being a PCV? A free trip to Japan? I might be getting an upcoming free trip to Thailand too but that's more of medical reason which I won't concern you with. On with the update...

Since they are busy in preparation, it was prefect timing for my 3-week stint to the eastern provinces of China (in order: Beijing, Tianjin, Qingdao, Suzhou, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau). Another PCV and I leave via the UB-Beijing train this Fri morning; 4 person sleeper cabin, 30 hours. I always wanted to see the expansive
Gobi but didn't want to trek there (it's not very pretty except for only selective areas); this was a great way to view it and Inner Mongolia. Once we are in the country, its local trains and buses all the way to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, we will fly back to Beijing and wait to take the train back to UB. I've planned an exciting itinerary (tombs, puppet theatre, Peking duck, monasteries, jade and pearl markets, gardens, teahouses, islands, beaches, seafood) - each city stop holds a particular reason to be there. I am hoping that the trip runs more smoothly then it was to get the Chinese visa. Visa requirements have been ridiculous a few months prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and haven't ceased.




Recommended Books on Mongolia

  • “Dateline: An American Journalist in Nomad’s Land” by Michael Kohn, 2006.
  • "Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford, 2004.
  • “Riding Windhorses” by Sarangerel, 2000.
  • “Twentieth Century Mongolia” by Baabar, 1999.

Recommended Mongolian Movies

  • The Story of the Weeping Camel (2004), Die Geschichte vom Weinenden Kamel
  • Mongolian Ping Pong (2005), Lü cao di