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A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Evacuation Video Diary


Paula Ospina was in the final months of her two-year assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, where she was working on community-health projects, when the coronavirus reached West Africa. In late February, she received her first e-mail about the now worldwide coronavirus outbreak from her Peace Corps country director. Over the next few weeks, Ospina received a series of quickly changing updates, eventually culminating in a notice of evacuation—the first time that the Peace Corps had ever gone through an agency-wide evacuation since it was established, in 1961. As the volunteers prepared for their evacuation, Ospina began documenting the events on her phone; the video above offers a visual diary of her journey home.

On March 17th, Ospina received a phone call with instructions to meet the following day, with all of her belongings, at a hotel—the first meeting point in a series of stops on her way back to the U.S. The next day, she said a hurried goodbye to a local woman with whom she had worked closely in the village, who offered consolation: “It is not a big deal. If she leaves, she is going to call me; then she will come back.” Later, in the city of Thiès, a woman informed Ospina and a group of volunteers that they would be leaving that evening, March 20th, hours before Senegal restricted air travel. Ospina landed in the U.S. on the morning of Saturday, March 21st, around 2 A.M.—it was not the gradual adjustment to life on the outside that she had been planning before the pandemic. “As much as I was preparing myself mentally to come home, I never thought that this was going to be my homecoming,” she wrote in an e-mail.

More than seven thousand Peace Corps volunteers have been evacuated in response to the pandemic, and they are all spending their first two weeks back at home in self-quarantine. “It currently feels like we are at an Airbnb hanging out before heading back to [the] village,” she wrote, as she began the two weeks with three of her fellow-volunteers. After quarantine, she says, she will head home and “hope to readjust back to American life as much as possible.” The home she’ll be returning to will certainly still be adjusting, too.

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