Romany Tin had his dream come true when he was assigned to teach English in rural Cambodia, but he had no idea that what started out as an amazing opportunity could end in such sadness.
He started feeling feverish six months into his placement, and after a couple of blood tests, he received the news that he had HIV and had to fly back to Washington D.C. for treatment.
“At first I was just shocked,” Tin told Buzzfeed News. “My mindset was literally just, I want to make sure I can come back.”
When Tin returned to D.C., he learned more about treating his HIV and realized how easy it was, just taking one pill a day. He asked to return to service but was met with pushback. When he told his Peace Corps health officer that he wanted to return to Cambodia, she responded that the organization doesn’t allow HIV-positive volunteers to serve in the country.
“They’re such a progressve organization, but their stigma and knowledge of HIV and how to treat it is very backwards,” said Tin. “I feel very mistreated. I feel angry.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. The ACLU fought on behalf of Jeremiah Johnson, who was sent home from the Peace Corps service in Ukraine back in 2008. Johnson’s case against the Peace Corps was that they were in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in Federal agency programs. At the time, Peace Corps agreed to stop automatically ending employment with volunteers who tested HIV-positive in the country they were serving.
“When the Peace Corps ended my service after I tested positive for HIV in 2008, there was at least some solace when we got them to publicly commit to ending this discriminatory practice and adhere to federal law,” Johnson said. “Seeing Romany face the exact same illegal injustice a decade later, when there is zero justification for medically separating a volunteer for a manageable condition that is simple to monitor and treat, is deeply infuriating.”
According to them‘s reporting, the Peace Corps confirmed that Tin was placed in Cambodia but couldn’t “discuss medical or other privacy-protected matters concerning individual volunteers.” They also wrote that medical separation was not automatic for volunteers with any ailment contracted during service, but cases were considered on an individual basis.
“The Peace Corps is committed to an ongoing assessment of the challenges associated with properly supporting Peace Corps volunteers who are HIV-positive, with the goal of accommodating volunteers where possible and reasonable,” the spokesperson wrote.