I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Reinstatement Request

So, I have hinted and alluded about reinstatement, but have not yet actually announced to everyone that I am doing it. So, here is my announcement: I am officially applying for reinstatement and attempting to return to Peace Corps service in Zambia!

I started this process about a month ago, and things are going well so far. To help everyone understand the process, I have made a Reinstatement Timeline (kind of like the popular "Application Timeline"). Please feel free to click on the tab above or read my timeline here.

I will not include all documents/e-mails pertaining to my reinstatement, as I do not feel it would be ethical to publish other peoples words/writings on here. But, I will present to you the official Reinstatement Request that I sent to Peace Corps:


Dear Zambia Country Desk Officer and Zambia Country Director,

I am writing to request that I be reinstated to my service with Peace Corps Zambia. I was medically separated on October 26, 2011, after 45 days of medical evacuation. This was due to severe illness caused by Acute HIV Infection.

Since that time, my main focus has been to regain my health and to deal with my HIV diagnosis. I have also become very active and involved with the HIV community, and educational, advocacy, and awareness events. One of my biggest accomplishments has been to create a blog to publicly share my story with the world. To date, my blog has received 100,000+ views, 100+ subscribed followers, and has been viewed in 120+ countries. It has been such a touching and amazingly meaningful opportunity for me to share my story in this way and to make a difference in the lives of PCVs, RPCVs, Applicants, PC Staff, HCNs, NGO workers, family members, and the general population! In addition to my blog, I have participated in ongoing HIV trainings, led HIV speaking events for high school and college students, volunteered for AIDS Awareness and Testing events, and given newspaper and radio interviews.

HIV was at first a startling and traumatic diagnosis for me. However, I have now come to feel that, in some twisted way, maybe this was meant to be. I feel that it has led me to a new passion and purpose in my life. I feel a duty, an obligation, and a desire to share and to educate, to spread knowledge and awareness, and to stop stigma and discrimination. I feel that messages about HIV can come from no one more powerful or meaningful than a person actually living with HIV. This is why I feel that I would be such a valuable asset working with HIV within Zambian communities, as well as educating other volunteers about HIV.

Through all of this, I have not let go of my Peace Corps dream. Being medically separated and having to leave my service so suddenly has been heartbreaking to me. Just as I know that I am meant to do HIV work, I know that I am meant to return to Peace Corps and finish what I started.

In addition to my intrinsic desires to return to service, I also have a desire to act as a role model, and to pave the way for future HIV+ volunteers, just as people like Jeremiah Johnson, Rebecca Coulborn, and Elizabeth Tunkle have paved the way for me. These brave HIV+ volunteers came forward in 2008 to encourage Peace Corps to reconsider its HIV Policy. Now, I strive to show future volunteers and the world that Peace Corps will stick by that policy. I strive to show any volunteers and others that an HIV diagnosis does not mean an end to their life, their job, or their dreams.

I realize that my medical condition will require some special accommodations, but I believe that the Medical Office will agree that my health has reached a stable point and that with some minor accommodations it would be safe for me to return to country. I am currently on treatment, have an undetectable viral load, and have a CD4 count well above 500. The Medical Office is already aware of my desire to reinstate, and has stated that they will feel comfortable granting me medical clearance if I can maintain these levels through June 2012.

Due to my prolonged absence from country, I would optimally prefer to reinstate with a new cohort, complete training again, and be given a new COS date. I think that this would be necessary in order to help me regain my language skills, as well as make meaningful connections with other volunteers. I am also aware that my original site in Nteme, Southern Province has already received a volunteer to replace me. Due to the timing of this request and of incoming training groups, along with my new passion and strengths in HIV work, I would like to be considered for reinstatement as a CHIP trainee with the August 2012 group.

I realize that I am asking a lot with this request. I am asking that you be willing to take an HIV+ volunteer and all associated medical accommodations into your country. I am asking that you consider giving me a new job assignment and allow me to reinstate with a new training group. I am asking that you give me a second chance to finish something that I previously, through poor choices of my own, brought to such an abrupt end. Please know that I will do everything and give everything to make this work. Please feel free to contact me with any and all additional concerns or questions that you may have.

I look forward to hearing from you, and hopefully working with you to make this reinstatement possible. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Jessica________


Now, I understand that it will be difficult for some friends and family to fathom and understand how I could possibly want to go back. And I may never be able to explain it... except that it was my dream for years and years to do the Peace Corps, and until I go back and finish what I originally set out to accomplish, I don't think I can move on. So, I hope everyone will support me in my decision to do this just as much or more than you did the first time! Love you all!

11 comments:

  1. I think you could do so much good in Zambia. People are so afraid to admit they are HIV postive and you can be a role model for so many people in Zambia, the US and elsewhere. I look forward to continuing to read your blog when you return to Zambia!

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  2. As a former PCV to Namibia, I can completely understand your need to finish what you started. I have been following your blog and it has questioned my own training about HIV/AIDS during my pre-service training. Goodness knows, I made a very similar choice to you while I served. I have wondered a thousand times since then how I could have possibly walked away from the poor choices I made without having contracted HIV. The loneliness a PCV feels is unknown to anyone who has not walked in our shoes and it certainly leads our lonely hearts to make choices that we might not have otherwise. However, being a PCV truly is an amazing experience and I wish you the best of luck with your reinstatement request. They would be silly to not take you back... the knowledge you will take back with you will have an amazing impact on the people you will touch in Zambia.

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  3. Congrats, I hope you'll be able to return on your timeline and complete what you originally started with PC. I also hope you'll continue to document your adventures once you return to Zambia!

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  4. Wow! You are amazing Jess. Your commitment is really inspiring - to be ready to re-instate just six months after being medically separated.

    Many others have packed in the towel on Peace Corps at that point. I admire you a lot :)

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  5. Congratulations and good luck Jessica! You are doing wonderful things for Peace Corps and they are lucky to have you as part of the organization. : )

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  6. Prayers that you will be reinstated. Keep us posted.

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  7. I think this a wonderful idea. Go back and fulfill your dream. You are a role model for all, with or with HIV. Don't give up.

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  8. Good luck! I hope you get approval to return. I will be starting Peace Corps service in June in Swaziland and would love to meet you if you're in Zambia!

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  9. Although your desire to return to service is understandable and commendable, there are valid reasons that HIV+ volunteers are not serving. It has nothing to do with stigma - it has everything to do with the quality of medical care available in our countries of service, compared with that in the US. While your viral load may be stable now and your CD4 count is high, there is the possibility that you will get sick while serving, and have to be medevaced again. There is also, realistically speaking, the chance that you will infect someone else (sorry if you don't want to hear it, but it is real - you got infected). If you were to do so, that is a lawsuit waiting to happen for PC.

    I will be surprised if PC reinstates you, as they do not reinstate people who have recovered from Mono, or who had knee surgeries, and yours is a far more serious illness. You mention the impact your blog has had on people, and that you have applied to be an Outreach Specialist - these are perhaps what you should focus on, and let go of the dream of finishing your service. We all have dreams we must release, as much as it breaks our heart to do so. You can have an impact in the US, continuing to do the things you have been doing. Focus on the now, and the future, not on the past. It would be a shame if you were to get hung up on going back, and not see the good you are doing, and can continue to do, in your current role.

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  10. To the Anonymous poster who claims that PC does not reinstate people who recover from mono........ you are wrong.

    While serving in his 1st year of PC my son got mono, was treated in DC, passed all required medical exams and returned to his host country within the 45 days of his med evac period. The remainder of his service he was healthy as a horse.

    So you are misinformed. I am pretty sure PC reviews each & every medical case individually and the outcomes vary.

    So Jessica, keep moving forward with your efforts to be reinstated. May the power of prayer keep you healthy and get you back to Zambia some time this calendar year. In the meantime continue being the wonderful HIV/AIDS spokesperson you have become.

    A concerned reader

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    Replies
    1. jess!
      SO eloquently written. Of course we support your decision on reinstatement. I wish you the best of luck! <3steph

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