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Coronavirus In Ohio: Peace Corps Volunteer Back Home After Evacuation From Ethiopia

Erin Gottsacker (center) was working for the Peace Corps in Ethiopia when the organization evacuated all its volunteers.
Erin Gottsacker
Erin Gottsacker (center) was working for the Peace Corps in Ethiopia when the organization evacuated all its volunteers.

An Ohio Peace Corps volunteer is back home from Ethiopia after organizers quickly evacuated volunteers around the world because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was saying goodbye to everyone just trying to get to the capital as fast as I could,” says Erin Gottsacker. “It wasn’t too organized.”

Gottsacker, an Ohio State University graduate and former WOSU intern, arrived back home March 23. She says the Peace Corps had contacted her by email just days before, with a message that all volunteers would have to go home.

At the time, the Peace Corps had over 7,000 volunteers across the globe who would be possibly stranded if travel became banned or otherwise difficult.

The morning after the initial notice, Gottsacker says the Peace Corps told her to get to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa as soon as possible.

"They ended up chartering a flight from Addis (Ababa) to Washington, D.C.," she says.

Gottsacker had been working as a high school English teacher near Bonga, Ethiopia since 2018.

“I was living in a rural village of Ethiopia, so health care was not very accessible,” Gottsacker says.

Gottsacker says she was aware of only a few cases of coronavirus in Ethiopia. But she and others noticed that Ethiopians started to blame Americans and other foreigners for the disease.

“While I was there, harassment started to increase," Gottsacker says. “People are just very scared and I felt like foreigners were increasingly becoming a target. We had to take these crowded mini-buses home and I had a couple of friends kicked of a bus. They people didn’t want to be on the bus with them.”

Gottsacker says that even though she still had another six months to work in Ethiopia, it's not enough time to go back when things settle down.

Now back home in the Cincinnati area with her family, Erin says she appreciated her time away from the U.S., even though it was cut short.

“I loved the experience,” Gottsacker says. “I’m so happy I got to go. I learned so much and I got to experience a different culture. I just loved it.”

Although former Peace Corps volunteers aren't eligible for unemployment, because of their volunteer status, Gottsacker says the organization did provide compensation for moving back. She also will have two more months of health insurance coverage.   

“I’m trying to get some doctor’s appointments in, but that’s also up in the air because of this virus," she says.

When the quarantine ends, Gottsacker's next step will be the same as many Ohioans: finding a job.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.