Catherine Puzey

Death of Peace Corps Volunteer a Rare, Tragic Occurrence

March 15, 2009 04:15 PM
by Emily Coakley
Details have been slow to emerge following the death of a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. Death among volunteers is a rarity. 

Volunteer Killed in Benin

Details surrounding the death of 24-year-old Kate Puzey in Benin last week remain unclear. Puzey, who had served for nearly two years in the Peace Corps, was found dead outside her home Thursday. According to the Forsyth News, local authorities are investigating the cause of her death.

Puzey taught English to students in a village several hours north of Benin’s capital, and came from a family of teachers. Both parents taught in a program that took them around the world. She was born in Germany and graduated from high school in Japan, according to the Forsyth News. Puzey then graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2006.

She described her life as a volunteer in the blog Being in Benin. In one entry dated May 2, she talked about the arrival of mango season: “Mangos now compromise a good third of my diet. Everyone walks around with a mango in hand or mouth, even the goats!”

While there has been no official word on the manner of her death, the newspaper said that according to her father, “Peace Corps officials have told him his daughter's death was the first murder of a volunteer in Benin in 40 years.”

Background: Volunteer safety

Since the Peace Corps was founded in 1961, 195,000 volunteers have served in nearly 140 countries around the world. According to the Peace Corps Web site, it started after then Sen. John F. Kennedy “challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries.”

Peace Corps volunteers serve for 27 months and work on a wide variety of projects, from purifying water to teaching children, according to the Corps’ Web site.

Despite concern that international aid workers are facing increasing danger, the death of Peace Corps volunteers is a rarity.

Though violent incidents are reported every year, murder is a rare occurrence. According to an annual report called “Safety of Volunteer, 2007,” 21 Peace Corps volunteers had been killed between 1961 and 2007.

In 2007, a volunteer was found dead in the Philippines, more than a week after being reported missing. The man who allegedly confessed to killing Julia Campbell of Fairfax, Va., said he attacked her after she bumped into him on a hiking trail.

Reference: Benin

Benin is a country on the west coast of Africa that is a former French colony. It has a population of approximately 9 million according to the BBC. The news service calls it one of the poorest countries in Africa. Togo is to its west, while Nigeria shares its eastern border.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines