EAST MONTPELIER — Seven Peace Corps volunteers are quarantined in a real estate office in East Montpelier after being evacuated from Rwanda due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The volunteers come from all over the country, from Georgia to Washington state. Sally Aldrich is the lone local in the group, hailing from Montpelier. Aldrich said the seven of them had been volunteering in Africa, six months into a 27-month commitment, when they were told they had to return to the United States because of the virus that causes COVID-19. She said the volunteers live with parents or grandparents who are older and because the risk for older people is higher, the group decided to quarantine together instead of going home. She said they all arrived at their new home Tuesday night, a house that’s been turned into a real estate office her parents work out of.
“It’s an old home that they’ve remodeled to be sort of a homey office downstairs and upstairs there are bedrooms. It has ... a full kitchen and everything, but it’s a little odd to be in a work space,” she said.
Aldrich said they also decided to stick together because they had been planning on spending the next 21 months together and weren’t ready to say goodbye.
The group said the first day has been pretty good so far, beside adapting to the last bits of Vermont winter after getting used to the East African climate. But now they need to figure out what they are going to do after the quarantine is over. Aldrich said the group plans to spend 14 days at the home, as recommended by health officials, if not a little longer.
The volunteers, six of whom were teaching English and the seventh worked in a medical center, want to go back if they can, but they aren’t sure what the future holds.
“We really connected with our communities. It was really, really tragic to be pulled out so unexpectedly and kind of last-minute,” she said.
Aldrich said if the pandemic is over in a couple of months, they might be able to go back, but if it goes longer than that, they will need to find jobs to support themselves. She said the uncertainty was a little terrifying. News of the volunteers’ quarantine spread around Vermont’s Peace Corps community and Aldrich said she learned there is a large group of former volunteers. She said they have set up a meal delivery service for the seven. The food is dropped off at the door and the group chats with the former volunteers about where they served, while practicing social distancing.
“Some of them are making us meals that are traditional meals from their country of service. It’s really sweet. We had our first meal dropped off last night. Actually from someone who served in Rwanda, so that was nice,” she said.
The group wanted to stress Peace Corps has not abandoned them, contrary to some reports. Aldrich said they are being paid an “evacuation allowance” and will still receive health insurance from Peace Corps for two months.