“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.