ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — One group ripped from their jobs because of the coronavirus is Peace Corps volunteers.
Earlier this month, all of the volunteers around the world were ordered to leave the countries where they were working and come back to the United States.
One of those volunteers was Victoria Gruber. She is a Peace Corps volunteer and Flagler College graduate.
She has been living and working in a remote village in Panama for eight months. She’s been training locals on soil health. Her big project was building a garden.
"... A school garden," she said. "The school hasn’t had food to provide their kids with for the last four months... which is terrible because they have to hike two to even three hours to get to school every day, and they’re little elementary kids."
On the evening of March 15, she received a text from Peace Corps leaders.
"'Emergency evacuation due to the coronavirus.' That’s all I needed to see. 'Leave immediately,'" she said.
The Peace Corps suspended its programs and evacuated all of its 7,300 volunteers from 600 countries.
"It happened so fast," Gruber said. "I couldn’t believe it. I just broke down in tears."
She left the next morning, unable to say goodbye to most of the people there. But, she said there was good reasoning behind the evacuation order.
"God forbid some of us did get the virus, they did not have the capacity to be able to help us there in Panama because all the hospitals and all the doctors that we had partnerships with were busy trying to protect the whole country," Gruber said. "So they couldn’t guarantee our safety. On top of that, people were closing borders."
She said it was a difficult decision to have to leave.
"I had started a life there," Gruber said. "I was very emotionally connected and I was there with a mission. I was there for a purpose and I didn’t get to fulfill that."
She was able to get back to Florida, and she is staying with a family in St. Augustine. Right now, she and the other thousands of Peace Corps volunteers don’t know if or when they’ll be returning to the people and places they served and learned from.
"Of course I have those feelings like I let them down. I let myself down," Gruber said. "But I can’t put this whole virus on me."