“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” – Mark Zuckerberg
When I attended a Peace Corps event a few months ago, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer said to me, “The news media will be your worst enemy. They will present events that seem so much more dangerous and bigger than it seems.” She is so right. The news media hasn’t been treating me well lately. While the news about Boko Haram has been ongoing, the recent news about the wife of Vice Prime Minister of Cameroon being kidnapped by Boko Haram a couple weeks ago and ebola killing hundreds of people in far west African countries has been putting my family into a complete nervous wreck about my leaving to Cameroon in just a little over a week. To make the matter worse, New York Times this past month posted a front page news story about two Peace Corps volunteers dying from bacterial infections. My family has tried to hint me that they want to tell me that I should change my mind and not go into the Peace Corps. One even asked me if there was any way I could “switch to a different country outside of Africa.”
I’m still set to serve in the Peace Corps.
I am in no way saying that we should sweep these news under the rug. These news do definitely need to be heard so that we are aware about we can do to ensure that we remain safe. However, at the same time, we have to realize that every parts of the world have its own share of problems too. South America, Asia and even North America are no safer than Africa. Many parts of Central and South America are currently battling the drug wars. Eastern Europe currently has a conflict in their own backyard – Ukraine and Russia. The US is dealing with ongoing gun-related violence. One in five women have been raped in the US. Joining in the Peace Corps is no riskier than being a driver in a car in the US.
I hope that I can share some information to help ease the minds of my family members and friends. Cameroon has long been known as the “oasis of Africa,” which means that it has been known as one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in Africa. It’s one of the few Peace Corps countries that has never faced suspension. This means that Peace Corps never had to evacuate its volunteers out of the country due to security threats since Peace Corps has sent volunteers to Cameroon in 1962.
The Boko Haram situation is affecting only in the very far northern tip of Cameroon. Peace Corps has blocked all volunteers from two northern most regions of Cameroon. This means that no volunteers can be posted or enter the northern area of Cameroon. I am presenting a map to show you how Boko Haram is affecting Cameroon. You will see a light red highlighted area on the map. That is where Boko Haram is located, which is primarily in Nigeria. The bright red dot is where the 200+ girls were kidnapped. The gray area is where no Peace Corps volunteers can enter. Cameroon is about 30% bigger than California. So, as you can see, Boko Haram is truly impacting only a very small part of the country, and Peace Corps volunteers will be very far from the Boko Haram situation. According to various Peace Corps volunteers, Peace Corps has very strict security policies that includes various curfews. These curfews can include not only not entering certain parts of a country but also not going out at night. If we break a curfew, we could be expelled from the program. Peace Corps is in close contact with local security officials in Cameroon, US Embassy in Cameroon, the Department of State, Regional Security Adviser, as well as the heads of other agencies to monitor the security situation very carefully. They stay ahead of the news reports. For example, all Peace Corps volunteers who were in the Far North region, the northern most region in Cameroon, were moved to the south last May 2013, long before Boko Haram became a front page news story. If they do ever feel that Boko Haram can impose threats to us, they will evacuate us, which would mean sending us back to the US and reassigning us to a new country or early terminating the service.
The ebola virus has not yet posed any threats to Cameroon. It has impacted primarily in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, which are far out to the west of Africa. They are located about a good three to four hours plane ride. However, the news did fairly recently report that someone who was infected with ebola entered in Nigeria from Liberia a few dew weeks ago. So, there has been concerns that ebola might possibly spread in Nigeria. This is understandably why my family is worried. Nigeria is right next to Cameroon. In the meantime, Cameroon has shut down the border between Nigeria and Cameroon and suspended all flights from Ebola affected countries. World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders and other medical related organizations have been working very diligently to try to eradicate the virus. Everyone should also be aware that ebola is a virus that is not passed through the air, but only through fluids. Peace Corps already has a plan in place if the virus does pose any threats to Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon which includes evacuating the country if necessary. Peace Corps has already evacuated all volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. I should add that Peace Corps has three very own medical officers. These medical officers are either licensed physicians or nurses, and they are responsible for only caring the Peace Corps volunteers.
At last, for those who I think I should not go and work in a developing country due to security and health threats, I’d like for you to pause for a moment and think about this question: If I don’t go there because there are risks, then who will go and help make the place safer for the humans who are already living there with risks? Is it fair for them to continue to live in tougher conditions?