When the Peace Corps paused its operations for the first time in its history, it had to gather its 7,300 volunteers scattered across the globe in 61 countries and find a way for them to get back home before borders closed. 

For Sasha Kogan, stationed in Cameroon, that meant a frantic multi-day evacuation that started in her three-room house in Kamba-Miere, a town she said housed fewer than 1,000 people, took her through two different cities in the central African county, included a chartered flight out of Ethiopia, and ended in quarantine in Washington, DC without access to unemployment benefits, currently, or clarity on how certain Peace Corps promises, like paying for student loans, will play out.  

Her evacuation left her marooned in an Airbnb with other volunteers, keeping away from her mother in New York City, who has a presumptive case of COVID-19, and now staying with her boyfriend's family in Illinois with no idea what comes next. 

The Peace Corps had never evacuated its entire volunteer operation at once, and Kogan, 23, said it was "very chaotic." 

When Morocco and South Africa closed their respective borders, Kogan said a friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer, who lived in a nearby village in Cameroon, warned her they would get evacuated soon. At the time, Kogan said other Peace Corps volunteers had been monitoring the situation at home, but, without a large number of cases in Cameroon, they were not yet worried. 

The next morning, she was told to evacuate quickly.

"I ran home and started packing a bag," she said. 

Through tears, she tried to explain her departure to the women who live in the community, but ran into a language barrier: her French was "not good enough to explain the situation."

"They thought I would be coming back," she said. "I tried to tell them I probably would not be coming back." 

Kogan was evacuated only six months into her volunteer service, and only three months into her time in her placement site.

Volunteers in Cameroon typically work on agriculture, education, and health projects, and Kogan had prepared programs like a girls' club to talk about HIV, relationship issues, and health, and community garden in an area where she said there weren't many vegetables. 

Before Kogan left the village, she also said goodbye to a local woman with whom she had been working closely and asked her to continue the projects they had begun to think through together. 

"We had laid the groundwork to start that stuff and I'm hoping she will continue that without me," she said. 

"Every leg of the journey was very last minute and hectic," she said of the Peace Corps' attempts to bring everyone home safely. 

Volunteers typically attend a Close of Service conference to focus on readjusting to life after the Peace Corps and help in career planning. Instead of receiving requisite medical and dental exams along with medication normally prescribed to help volunteers reacclimate in their home countries, this cohort was instead given vouchers for the medication to fight malaria and prevent parasitic worms, which they were told to fill once home. 

Now, she's quarantining herself in the U.S., but evacuated Peace Corps volunteers are not currently eligible for unemployment benefits. Lawmakers led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), are pressuring the Department of Labor to offer guidance on whether evacuated volunteers are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The officials are also trying to find ways to integrate returned volunteers into coronavirus response efforts stateside.

"I'm really sad — really, really sad — that I can't finish, at least not for the foreseeable future," she said, although, "Peace Corps stresses a lot about being resilient and stuff like that." 

It's been particularly difficult, she said, parting with people who live in the Cameroon village where she worked. She has been receiving text messages from them asking when she's coming back and telling her they miss her. 

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "There's a part of me that wants to do it again if the Peace Corps opens up again in a few months." She has been planning to apply for medical school but also says she's "looking for ways to get back out there." 

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