Responsibilities of U.S. Embassy Wardens

“Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” ― Abraham Lincoln

Five years ago, the U.S. Embassy warden for Ometepe Island moved back to the states. She asked me if I would be willing to take on the duties of the warden for the island and of course, I said I would.

My primary responsibility as a warden for the U.S. Embassy is to aid in communicating with my fellow U.S. citizens living and visiting Ometepe Island in the event of an emergency. So, I’d like to describe my volunteer position to you.

  1. My main responsibility as a volunteer is to assist consular sections in disaster preparedness, welfare & whereabouts, and alerting fellow Americans to emergency situations. Mainly, I am a messenger. We have a Google group and a Facebook page where I can send messages I receive to the community of expats on Ometepe Island.
  2.  I facilitate distribution of routine administrative information (changes in section work  hours, procedures, embassy closures, voting information) of interest to the U.S. private community. I also provide important, timely safety and security information, which might include the times and locations of upcoming local demonstrations, areas of potential unrest due to local celebrations or elections, or information about a specific medical issue.
  3. The U.S. Embassy sends me email messages and provides me with a contact list of all the U.S. Embassy wardens in Nicaragua. I am invited to July 4th celebrations at the Embassy. Although, I have yet to attend because it is a long trip to Managua, and I have to spend the night because I can’t get a ferry back to Ometepe Island after 5:30 pm.

Then, there are the situations that are beyond the call of duty. I am the one called when a U.S. citizen dies on Ometepe. I contact the embassy so that they can contact the relatives of the deceased. Usually, that is all I need to do. However, when there are no family members, I have helped to buy a coffin, wash and dress the deceased, and attend velas and funerals.

I organized a meeting with other wardens, embassy staff, lawyers, and doctors because I had so many questions about what happens when a U.S. citizen dies in Nicaragua.
Then I compiled the information and distributed it to all the U.S. wardens in Nicaragua.
Everything You Need to Know about Death of an Expat in Nicaragua

There are issues of lost passports, injured hikers, personal assaults, scams, medical emergencies, incarceration for breaking foreign laws, and recently I had a report of alleged child abuse by a U.S. citizen. Most of the time I never hear if these cases have been resolved, yet I do my duty and pass on the information to the U.S. Embassy in Managua when U.S. citizens find themselves in trouble abroad.

Two events of which I am proud to be involved were; my visit with President Jimmy Carter. One Historic Moment on Ometepe Island and reopening a case of medicare fraud in Nicaragua. In the Nicaraguan/U.S. medicare fraud case, a Nicaraguan doctor with dual citizenship and his family and friends were convicted of medicare fraud to the tune of $25.2 million dollars.  Five Individuals Sentenced for Their Role in Medicare and Medicaid Fraud Scheme in Florida, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

My involvement in these two events were not because I was a U.S. Embassy warden, but rather because I like to help my fellow Americans. I just do what I can as a local face on the ground.

The Volunteer Warden program began in the 1930s when embassies relied on volunteers to disseminate important information for U.S. citizens living and working abroad. The name comes from World War II air raid wardens who patrolled territories in the United Kingdom and United States. Volunteers would knock on doors and call landlines to deliver messages such as absentee voting, social security, red-code warnings like evacuations and natural disaster shelters.

Today the 294 U.S. Embassies abroad can deliver messages electronically. It is an efficient and rapid way to disseminate information, freeing up the volunteer wardens to focus more on expats and U.S. tourists whose trips have taken an unpredictable turn down an unimaginable road.

Who are we? We are civilians — emphasis on non-State-Department employees — with strong ties to our communities. We are typically fluent in the culture, habits, layout of the communities, and language of our adopted country. We are retired, work full-time or part-time, or pursue humanitarian projects. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we are charitable people who want to give a local perspective to those in need. We like to help others.

So, how do you, as a tourist or an expat ask for help from a warden? Most of the time you don’t. It starts with the U.S. Embassy. The family contacts the embassy with a problem. The embassy staff might resolve the problem in-house or ask for assistance from a warden in one of the countries districts or departments. Sometimes it is an easy fix, like a stolen passport. Other times it is more complex, like a death.

Because of the program’s informal arrangement with wardens, there is no official headcount internationally. However, we have 41 wardens in Nicaragua. I can’t find information about the warden count in other countries.

What can tourists do to help the embassies when they are traveling or living abroad? For me, it is very important that the U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua or visiting Nicaragua enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or STEP. I urge you to register because if there is an emergency, we can get contact information immediately. I have had several situations where a U.S. citizen died on Ometepe Island and it took us several days to locate his/her passport. I need that information to contact the embassy so that they can call family.

I thoroughly enjoy my volunteer position. If you live abroad and like to help others, consider becoming a warden. It is a duty I can do for my country with pleasure and satisfaction in knowing that I can help in a small way.

26 thoughts on “Responsibilities of U.S. Embassy Wardens

  1. Thank you for the great blog. My mother is retired and I would like to learn more about the Warden program for her. Where can I learn more-is there a website or guide online that I can refer to please? Thank you.

    • Hi Nicole,
      There is no guide or website for the warden program. Actually, the warden’s job fell into my lap when my friend was the warden and moved back to the states. I gladly assumed her responsibilities. I wish there was a guide because many people have asked me about the warden program. My suggestion is to contact the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua or any other country abroad and ask them how to become a warden. Thanks for asking. I wish I could be more helpful. Maybe I will suggest to the embassy to write an information page on their website about warden responsibilities and how to apply for them.

  2. Good morning Debbie,
    I have read your fine blog for quite a long time now, and would like to take this opportunity to compliment you on the quality of your posts, as well as your excellent writing style. You are truly a first class blogger!
    I would like to know how I can become a US Embassy Warden, and was hoping that you could point me in the right direction. Any information that you could share with me would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you,
    Robert Bowers

  3. Thanks Debbie for the post! Glad to know there is someone looking out for us here on Ometepe! i guess I need the Facebook and Google group links so I can get informed!

  4. Good morning Deborah,
    I have been a long time follower of your excellent blog, and I would like to take this opportunity to compliment you on the fine quality content that you offer, and the personal touch which accompanies every post. BRAVO!!!
    I would like to know how to become a US Embassy Warden. I live in Nindiri, and I am very well connected within the community and the local government. I am retired, and this could be a great opportunity for me to use my connections to better serve the US Embassy as well as the people of my community.
    My wife and I are heavily involved in local charities from the Bomberos to our local “Feed The Children Day”, and the delivery of food baskets to hungry families at Christmas time each year.
    If you have any information on how to become a Warden, it would be most appreciated.
    Thank you, and keep up the good work!
    Robert Bowers

    • Hi Robert,
      Thank you for your kind comments.You would be an excellent addition as a U.S. warden for your area. Call the U.S.Embassy or send them an email and let them know what area you live in and ask if they need a warden or assistant warden in your area.Best wishes and let me know what you find out.

      • Hi Debbie,
        As per your advice, I sent an email to the U.S. Embassy on February 28, and again on March 9 as a follow up to my original. I received an automated confirmation of the receipt of my email for each, but have yet to receive a reply. Is this normal for the embassy to take so long to reply to a request?

        • Hi Robert. Sorry to tell you that it is perfectly normal for the embassy to take a long time to respond unless it is an emergency. Hopefully, you will hear from them soon. Best wishes and thanks for letting me know.

  5. I am wondering if the Canadian Government has anything similar…? Worth my looking into I think. Great post Deborah… as always. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

  6. Fascinating post, Debbie, and yet another puzzle piece to add to all the questions and answers
    that accompany expat life. A few years ago, while traveling in Utila off the coast of Honduras, we met the warden for that area and learned a little about what your duties are. It’s amazing the things we take for granted and I can’t thank you enough as an expat for volunteering to do this service. We’re currently in the process of getting legal wills drawn up in Portugal to make sure our remains aren’t repatriated in the event of our deaths and, thanks to our meeting, now know that the embassy needs to be notified of our deaths. And yes,yes,yes – we’re enrolled in the STEP program. Another great service for both travelers and expats. Anita

    • Thank you, thank you for enrolling in the STEP program, Anita. It really makes the job easier for the U.S. Embassy when a problem arises..and there are many unforeseen problems. We had new wills drawn up several years ago, too. I never realized that we needed to have separate wills for our property and possessions in Nicaragua and for our property and possessions in the states. So, I am glad to hear that you are doing that. So many puzzle pieces to fit together when living abroad.

  7. You really are an amazing and blessed woman!!!
    Its really wonderful how the Divine works thru you and I so enjoy reading all of the wonderful stories about your life on Ometepe. You’ve done much to cultivate and grow inside and out .
    Being a warden is yet , just another one of your great adventures and an interesting one at that!
    As I travel and live in many cultures I often wonder about all those big and little things that makes ones life such a search for self.
    May your days be filled with WONDER AND JOY, keep writing , I see a book in your future!!!!

    Light ,
    Heidi Lane
    San Miguel , Azores ,Portugal

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