For Peace Corps evacuees, there wasn’t even time for goodbye

  • Peace Corps

DUMFRIES, Va. (AP) – After two weeks alone in a hotel room in the Virginia suburbs, 40 minutes outside Washington, Kelsea Mensh was ready to go home.

A few weeks earlier, the 22-year-old Peace Corps volunteer had completed a year of service in the Dominican Republic. She loved being in her “pueblo” surrounded by families and lively children. She was working on a school improvement project and applying for funding to install hand-washing stations to help provide running water in her community. She was filled with purpose and excited to fulfill her two remaining years of service.

Then an email came, followed by a phone call. The Peace Corps was pulling all its volunteers from projects around the world because of concerns about the coronavirus. There would be no hand-washing station. There would not even be time to say goodbye.

In a message posted on the Peace Corps website last month, Director Jody Olsen said the decision to temporarily suspend operations was difficult. “Fortunately, we were able to safely evacuate each of our posts, avoiding a situation where Volunteers would have been stranded overseas as borders and air space were shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

In response to questions, the agency said about 7,000 volunteers were evacuated from 60 countries. Upon returning to the U.S., they were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks.