Kate Puzey was one of a kind: radiant, astute & gifted, wise beyond her years, and, most of all, exceptionally compassionate and caring for others. An adventurous, open-minded, and upbeat individual, she described herself as an optimistic realist and strived to make the world a better place.
Kate’s compassionate spirit led her to dedicate much of her life’s energy towards working on behalf of others. She was an outspoken advocate for numerous causes in high school, worked with underprivileged children during her college years, volunteered for the International Rescue Committee upon graduating, and finally joined the Peace Corps in 2007. While Kate cared about many issues, she was an especially strong advocate for women, ‘the underdog’, and her friends & family.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, Kate was assigned to teach English in the West African nation of Benin at the small rural village of Badjoudae. Over the next two years she developed a close-knit relationship with her community, particularly the women and children. Kate formed a ‘girls club’, organized events such as ‘girl camps’ for women, taught reproductive health, and spoke out tactfully against male oppression.
When she discovered that a fellow teacher, a Beninese citizen who worked for the Peace Corps, was sexually abusing young female students, Kate took steps to protect her students and reported his misconduct to the Peace Corps headquarters in Benin. The Peace Corps Inspector General’s report and several other accounts indicate that her requested confidentiality was breached in this office. A few days after the Peace Corps fired the man she accused, Kate was found brutally murdered at her home on March 11, 2009.
Kate was born in Augsburg, Germany on June 19, 1984, where her parents were teaching overseas. When she was nine years old, her family moved to Okinawa, Japan, where Kate lived until college. From an early age she displayed her exceptionally caring and talented spirit. In high school Kate was elected student body president her junior and senior year, and graduated at the top of her class in 2002. Kate then attended The College of William and Mary, majoring in sociology with a minor in business. She also studied abroad her junior year at the University of Montpelier in France, developing a language proficiency that would later allow her to be a teacher in Benin.
A truly global citizen, during her brief 24 years Kate traveled extensively to such varied places as England, Indonesia, Italy, Ghana, Greece, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Hong Kong, Spain, and Thailand. She was a gifted writer whose descriptions of her travels allowed family and friends to enjoy her experiences vicariously, as well as a talented photographer who captured the world with sensitivity and insight. Her bright smile and positive attitude endeared her to those whose lives she touched. Kate’s aspiration was to pursue a career in nonprofit management, likely in the area of international development in relation to advocacy on behalf of women and children.
As her loving, vibrant spirit allowed Kate a special gift for connecting deeply with people from all walks of life, her untimely loss has left a profound void for her family and many friends around the world.
-From Kate’s Voice (a site created by Kate’s family to protect other Peace Corps Volunteers and their families from the unnecessary devastation that they experienced.)
Statement from Peace Corps Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet on the 5th Anniversary of Kate Puzey’s Death
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Today, on the fifth anniversary of the death of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, we honor her legacy and reaffirm our commitment to building a stronger, more effective Peace Corps. A compassionate and motivated volunteer, Kate was committed to helping others and embodied everything a Peace Corps volunteer should be. Her spirit of charity, selflessness and kindness lives on.
“Kate’s passing cemented a fundamental culture shift at the Peace Corps, including concrete reforms to help ensure we are doing everything we can to keep volunteers healthy and safe, and that when tragedies do occur, families receive responsive and compassionate support from the highest levels of the Peace Corps.
“Each and every day, Kate’s memory inspires us as we forge a 21st century Peace Corps that bridges our founding ideals with the realities of modern times. We have embarked on the most extensive reform this agency has ever seen, and it began with improving the quality of support we provide to our volunteers. We aren’t done yet, and it will take time, but are making important progress. We’re changing the Peace Corps for the better, and we’re committed to doing it right.”
President Obama signing the Kate Puzey Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act of 2011 into law, November 21, 2011
The new law codifies and expands many of the reforms the agency has put in place to enhance safety and security and ensure compassionate and effective response and support to all volunteers.
The Peace Corps has:
- Hired a nationally recognized leader in victims rights to serve as the agencys first victim advocate. Victims of crime can now turn to a skilled and experienced Peace Corps staff member dedicated to making certain volunteers receive the emotional, medical, legal, and other support they need both during and after their service.
- Updated and expanded training for volunteers and staff on sexual assault awareness, risk-reduction strategies, bystander intervention, and reporting and response procedures.
- Created an external body of leading experts in the field of sexual assault and returned Peace Corps volunteers to provide advice on Peace Corps sexual assault risk reduction and response strategies.
- Established procedures to ensure that allegations by Peace Corps volunteers are handled confidentially and appropriately.
The Kate Puzey Memorial Fund was established to honor the memory and service of Benin Volunteer, Kate Puzey. This fund enables members of the public, as well as former Volunteers who have been inspired by Kate’s story, to support ongoing work in her memory. Donations to this fund will be used to support approved Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) projects which focus on the empowerment and education of young girls in Benin, a cause that was very close to Kate’s heart. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who received contributions from the Fund for their previous PCPP projects are also welcome to contribute to ensure Kate’s continuing legacy.