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11/16/09 Tragedy

My description of the ways to leave Peace Corps was inadvertently incomplete.

I only listed the ways to leave alive.

Today, Peace Corps lost a Volunteer...and I lost a friend.

It's so unexpected as to be ludicrous - so shocking as to leave me gasping.

Here's the official notification from our Country Director:
The Peace Corps is deeply saddened to confirm that on Monday, November 16th, 2009, Peace Corps Volunteer So-Youn Kim passed away unexpectedly after an illness. So-Youn was in a hospital in Marrakech and Dr. Hamid was by her side.

So-Youn, 23, a native of San Francisco, California, had been serving as a Youth Development Volunteer for one year in Tamagroute near Zagora.

Please contact a PCMO if you need counseling or would like someone to talk to.
Details of a memorial service to honor So-Youn will be shared soon.
Please keep So-Youn’s family and friends in your thoughts.

Update from a less stunned moment, 10 days later:

This is hardly Peace Corps' first fatality. In our fifty-year history, we've lost about 250 PCVs, out of the almost 200,000 who have served. Three-quarters of those were in the first twenty years; once Peace Corps stopped giving us motorbikes, the number of deaths from traffic accidents plummeted. (Sources: here and here and here.)

That doesn't make this any less of a tragedy. So-Youn (or soyoun, as she usually wrote it) lit the world with her radiance. She threw herself into life like a full-contact sport, with little patience for superficiality and a gift for penetrating insights. She was generous, loving, thoughtful, funny, exuberant, flamboyant... And whatever you believe happens after death, whether you hope to share her joy again or believe that she has vanished from the universe forever, we can all agree that we will miss her.

I'm grateful for the life she lived and for the time I got to spend with her.

For those who have been asking what happened - I avoided discussing it when I thought the questions were driven by sensationalism. But I know some of you are worried about me or your own loved one (because believe it or not, many of my readers are friends and family of other PCVs), so I'll say this: None of us are in danger. Soyoun died of complications from a medical procedure. Nothing contagious, nothing infectious, nothing any of us need to fear.

In short: feel free to grieve with us, but please don't be afraid for us.


  1. Peace Corps is known for having life health implications. How is the medical care? What procedure? Will many PCs need this type of procedure? If there is a problem with the medical procedures shouldn't we know this?

  2. It was a minor surgical procedure. One not commonly performed for PCVs or anyone else. And I respect soyoun's privacy enough not to share more. I hope you can understand that.

    Complications arise in American hospitals as well as Moroccan hospitals. I have no idea how common they are here as opposed to in the US, but I suspect the WHO has that information, if you really want to research it.

    I lost a friend; I'd really rather stay focused on her, and not have this devolve into a freak-out over Moroccan medicine.


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