I am finally back home in the good old United States of America! After two and a half years in a developing country, arriving home early was a welcome surprise. Although, the circumstances were not. Many of you may be wondering why my service ended early, and, after reading the title of this blog post, why I resigned. Here is my story.
It started when I made promotional videos for a few resorts and put them up on my website. You can see the videos here. I’m not sure how the whole thing started, but my guess is that the country director of Peace Corps Fiji was looking at my website and sent it to Peace Corps Headquarters. Regardless, I received an email from the country director a couple of months later accusing me of breaking Peace Corps policy by profiting from the videos. Here are all of the emails if you care to read them.
I immediately replied to the email letting the country director know that I had done the videos for free and had never made a dollar from them. I was doing it just to build a portfolio and gain experience, and I did it in my free time on weekends. I let him know that he could call the resorts to confirm this. And I expected that to be the end of it. It wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The country director replied to my email with an even more intense response, saying things like, “So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you feel confident that you have not violated any Peace Corps policies… I want you to understand that I’m actually trying to find a way to salvage your service, but if this is your position I may not have much other option.” I could not understand why my innocence would be grounds for termination so I called him immediately.
On the phone he told me that he had no way of knowing whether or not I received money. When I told him he could call the resorts and ask he said he was not interested in playing detective. So, essentially, I was being wrongfully accused by a man who did not want to know whether or not I had done anything wrong. He said it was not just the fact that I may have profited, but the image portrayed to others who may come across the videos knowing I’m a Peace Corps volunteer. At the end of our phone discussion he told me I should send an email to him apologizing for what I had done and that I was willing to do whatever Peace Corps liked to resolve this situation so he could forward it to headquarters.
At this point I was under the impression that if I was administratively separated from Peace Corps I would lose everything I had worked for — like thousands of dollars in readjustment allowance and the ability to put Peace Corps on my resume. So, I sent the email, apologizing for what I had done and asking for forgiveness. It was a difficult email to write as I did not believe in what I was writing at all. All I felt was fury toward the country director for working against me and ignoring my side of the matter. I thought Peace Corps staff in country were there to help us volunteers. I quickly learned they are far more efficient when it comes to reprimanding volunteers.
The next day the country director called me and told me he had had a meeting with headquarters and I would be given a corrective action plan (CAP) to resolve this matter. A couple of days later he sent me the CAP. You can read it here. Basically, it said that I must take down the website, email the resorts to ask them not to use the videos, and pay them the price of the room I stayed in while I made the videos. If they would not accept payment I was to donate the money. In other words, as a volunteer making $300/month, I was to pay or donate a significant amount of money I never received. When I told the country director it did not seem right for Peace Corps to make me do this he laughed.
I ended up signing the document. I regret doing it, but it did not accuse me of anything, so I just signed it to get out of this situation and move on. I emailed the resorts–a most embarrassing and unprofessional task. Almost a full week later I got another email. It was from the country director, informing me he had made a mistake and was supposed to send the CAP to the lawyers at Peace Corps headquarters to have it looked over before sending it to me. The old CAP was now null and void and I had to wait for the other one.
When I received the new CAP was when I knew I had a problem. The wording had only changed slightly, but the meaning had changed significantly. It now accused me of everything I had told them I was not guilty of. Signing it would mean admitting guilt. Here is the second CAP.
I immediately emailed the country director and let him know I could not sign the new CAP as it was significantly different from the last. He asked what I would like changed in the wording in order to sign it. I essentially told him I could not sign it at all. Basically, I could not stay in Peace Corps unless the whole thing went away.
I read the rule book and found out I would still receive all the benefits of Peace Corps service if I resigned early, besides a couple of small things I did not care about, like Non-Competitive Eligibility and the ability to apply to Fellowship programs. I now saw no reason to stick around and be abused by the Peace Corps. I had accomplished most of what I wanted to during my service and I will always be proud of what I did in Fiji. I was ready to leave.
The next day I told him that I was resigning from Peace Corps. He said they would wait until Monday to figure everything out. I let him know the rule book states that unless it was not feasible they had to get me out within 72 hours. He laughed and told me he thought they had some leeway in that.
I went back to my village, packed all of my things, and let the people in my village know what was happening. It ended up being 134 hours before I left the country. Almost double the allotted 72. They disregarded the rules when it came to exerting extra energy, but stretched the rule further than it should have been stretched when accusing me of things I did not do.
I am now back in the United States and could not be happier. I am traveling around the country in my brother’s RV, currently headed on a slow path to Washington state. I am so grateful for the love and support of the people of Fiji and it will always be my second home. I will return soon to say the proper goodbyes. Watch the video at the top of this page for a more in-depth story.