Mr. Speaker, America’s Peace Corps volunteers are our angels abroad. They represent the very best we have in America, but right now, we are not doing enough to protect them.
One volunteer, Jennifer Mamola, her life was forever changed after an accident while she was serving in Uganda. Early one morning, Jennifer was walking with two friends to a bus stop.
Out of nowhere, a drunk driver rammed into them; one volunteer was killed and Jennifer’s legs were broken. When she returned home to America, still bedridden and loaded on pain medication, she faced an uphill battle to get treatment because of bureaucracy.
After months of fighting the system, she was finally approved for disability, but her nightmare didn’t end there. Her case was regularly reopened, and she struggled to get the surgeries she needed and was not always approved.
Still traumatized by her experience in Uganda, she reached out for mental health treatment, only to be ignored. I have heard too many stories like Jennifer’s, volunteers eager to make a difference in the world, return home to America, seem to be abandoned by an organization they gave so much for.
Others tell of their struggle to receive quality medical care and protection while they are overseas. A brave volunteer opened up to me about the daily sexual harassment she experienced while serving in a country overseas.
During broad daylight, men would grope and threaten her as she walked home from school. One afternoon at the market, the cashier threatened to break into her house in the middle of the night, come into her bedroom, and sexually assault her.
When she reported this to the Peace Corps, they assured her that the men were ‘‘simply joking.’’ The harassment went on for months and months.
Finally, she made the decision to return to the United States. She could no longer bear the harassment, and she was threatened and afraid. Peace Corps recorded her reason for leaving as ‘‘difficulty adapting to the culture.’’
Are you kidding me? A culture of sexual assault in a foreign country? This meant she was not awarded the certificate of service or letter from the President of the United States that she earned.
Sexual assault and harassment should never be excused as ‘‘joking.’’ It should never be brushed off as a cultural norm.
Peace Corps has fostered this belief for too long. Between 2010 and 2014, there were over 900 reported cases of sexual assault and rape by Peace Corps volunteers overseas.
This is unacceptable. Our volunteers deserve protection. They deserve basic protections from bad guys who seek to harm them.
They deserve quality medical care, both in country and when they get back to the United States. Now, the Peace Corps has made some changes, but as a former judge, I can tell you that it is our duty to do everything within our power to protect our angels abroad and do more.
Peace Corps volunteers are the face of our country in places where America’s shining beacon of hope and liberty may not always shine so bright. They promote goodwill, a better understanding of the United States.
They do so much for people overseas. This helps to secure an enduring partnership for our Nation.
They change lives every day in the local communities that they serve. Their service to this country should not turn into a nightmare that interrupts or even ends their lives.
We must remember that these Peace Corps volunteers, many times, operate alone in remote areas of the world, doing the best they can to help other people. Simple changes would greatly improve the safety and security of our Peace Corps ambassadors abroad.
That is why the bill Representative JOE KENNEDY of Massachusetts and I have introduced—the bipartisan Sam Farr Peace Corps Enhancement Act—is so important. We must not continue to send our volunteers into remote areas of the globe without adequate protections against harm.
They must have access to a qualified medical doctor and an effective healthcare system to take care of them when they come back to the United States. There are some things that we can do and this bill will help.
It is time to stand up and take action for our volunteers. They are some of the best that America has, representing America and the Peace Corps, and it is our responsibility to take care of them.
And that is just the way it is, Mr. Speaker.