PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 17, 2007

Peace Corps volunteer not assaulted

Mary Meaux

A Port Arthur woman serving in the Peace Corps in Mongolia was not the victim of a violent crime as was first reported by her grandmother last week.

Darlene Hernaez, the 22-year-old granddaughter, said she was not the victim of a crime and was not strangled or robbed.

Hernaez explains in her own words what actually occurred.

“An article was published erroneously about a minor incident that happened to me while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia. My grandmother, who is understandably overly concerned about my health, was quoted in saying that I was strangled and robbed; however I was neither,” she said in an e-mail to The News. “ I want to dispel these statements to ease troubled minds. The minor assault that occurred could have happened to anyone in any part of the world and though flattered at this attention given to me, I truly am not worthy of it. I am thankful for your prayers and concerns, but I am both physically and emotionally fine. I cause more physical harm to myself by simply walking in and out of my ger, a traditional Mongolian house, entry way, which even for a short Filipina as myself, I often forget to duck low enough. Even as I write to y’all today, I can feel the bump on my head from this morning’s literal run in with my doorway.”

“And again despite what my grandmother may believe, I am not risking my life being here. On the contrary, I am starting to live a life that many only dream of having. And though I have only been in Mongolia for a short time, it already feels as though I have been here a lifetime; I mean that in the best way possible. So I don’t have 24-hour stores, fast food restaurants, cable TV or a car, and I have to get water from a well, wash my clothes by hand, and live in a Mongolian ger and will soon be chopping wood and making fires to keep warm. Is that really so strange? To me it has become the norm, and it amazes me how comfortable I am living in such a foreign land away from my friends and family, but I am. And although my days are not always easy, as I am still adjusting to the language, culture, and lifestyle, to imagine my life anywhere else but here is beyond me.”

Hernaez says teaching English has given her a new found respect for teachers everywhere.

“Let me please take a moment to apologize to my previous teachers for any bad behavior or trouble I may have caused you in the past. Only now do I understand your frustrations as my students are not always perfect angels. However despite their occasional devilish tendencies, I can’t stay mad at their cute faces too long. I am thankful for them in fact, because they challenge me to be a better teacher,” she said.

“So though I deeply miss my family and friends, and think often of the States, my home, at the moment, is here in Mongolia. I cannot reiterate how much I love this country, its people, and my position as a PCV. I honestly wouldn’t be here without the support of my family who although would like me to be closer to them has never once told me to quit an organization that I am so passionate about. This has been a life long dream of mine and being able to live it leaves me utterly speechless, which for those who know me is hard thing to do. My only hope is that everyone has an opportunity to one day live out their wildest desire too.”

Hernaez offered a few words to her grandmother, who was so worried about her youngest grandchild being away in a foreign country.

“Lola (my grandmother), please try not to worry too much. I really am okay and love you deeply but still don’t want to come home,” she said.

The Peace Corps are a welcome sight in the country.

“The safety and security of our volunteers is the number one priority of the Peace Corps. Volunteers in Mongolia are not only safe, but flourishing. I visited Mongolia in April and was pleased to witness the strong partnership and friendship between the volunteers and the people of Mongolia,” Ron Tschetter, Director of the Peace Corps, said.

Even Mongolia’s President Nambaryn Enkhbayar expressed his appreciation for the volunteers' work.

“What your Volunteers are doing is of high importance to me, my government, my country and the Mongolian people,” he said in a newsletter to The Peace Corps.

President Enkhbayar has visited volunteers in several of the 17 district communities in which they work throughout the country. He commented, “The unique thing about Peace Corps volunteers is that they choose to live the way we live and are easy to recognize because they are the ones working together with the people in the local communities.”