"Are you getting excited yet?" has been the most popular question during the past six weeks or so.
I'm going to plead the fifth and decline to answer at this time. Lucky you.
However, I will take a moment to answer the second most popular, less subjective, question:
"What do you do in the Peace Corps?"
Contrary to popular belief, we are not a bunch of grubby hippies who "make peace, not war."
A year ago I would have rattled off some politically correct answer about building sustainable projects and improving the quality of life to peoples living in developing countries.
Now--with oh so much more experience and understanding--I reply with a simple: It depends.
Raise your hand if you've ever found yourself completing a task completely unrelated to your job, thinking Where was THIS in my job description? That's the ongoing lifestyle of a Peace Corps Volunteer.
For humor's sake, I'll give you a "choose your own answer" format. (Do you remember those "choose your own ending" books? It's like that.)
First, a little background:
The PC has six different sectors: agriculture, business, education, environment, health, and water sanitation. Because of my background and experience, I am in the education sector. Each PC country has its own unique makeup of sector representatives based on local need.
- if you want the dictionary definition (courtesy of peacecorps.gov).
- if you want to hear about the three goals of PC.
- if you want to read about my ideal PC job.
- if you want real-life examples.
"This is the largest area of need for Peace Corps countries. Education Volunteers team-teach or directly teach English, health, literacy, math, and science. Education Volunteers strengthen local capacity by training and mentoring teachers in primary and secondary schools, teacher training colleges, and universities. Volunteers work with teachers to improve participatory teaching methodologies, inclusion practices, classroom management, authentic assessments, parental involvement, and gender equality in the classroom. They also create after-school programs, clubs, and camps for boys and girls to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and life skills."
(2) Peace Corps three "simple" goals:
a. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
b. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
c. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
...and in layman's terms:
a. Volunteers learn about host culture while living there.
b. Host culture learns about America.
c. Volunteer shares knowledge/experience about host culture when they return to US.
(3) My original motive (2 years ago!) in applying for the PC was to obtain my CA teaching credential. That's right, people: CA offers a preliminary credential in lieu of a credentialing program to returned education PCVs. My changed motive now has to do with how I feel about my coworkers. Because my blog is now being stalked by the government and have agreed to not write anything too controversial, you can ask me more about this in person. For my second time around, I have been given the job descriptions of "Youth Literacy Adviser," "Special Education Adviser," and "Youth Development." Apparently someone thinks I'm really good at advising, especially in two areas that I have relatively no experience. But that's beside the point. In addition to our primary assignments, we are encouraged to branch out and help with other projects volunteers have going. In my ideal job, I really hope to get involved in the health sector and even dabble a bit in the environment sector. There is so much to learn (not to mention-add to the resume) from my fellow volunteers.
(4) I will share about my 2 site mates in Africa. C, a fellow education volunteer, had been there a year previous to me. In her first year of service she had cleaned out and reestablished the library in the primary school she was assigned to. That included literal cleaning and remodeling, having furniture built, gathering/purchasing supplies, and teaching students and teachers how to use a library. She also hosted classes during the school day for library time. C held a study hall after school for struggling students (whose parents would let them attend) as well as workshops and seminars for the teachers at her school. Besides the library, C also held regular teacher training workshops, offered advice/feedback, started a school garden, and many other things I don't even know about. Her main goal going into this school year was to start a peer tutoring program at the new, local secondary school.
M was a health volunteer, preceding me by 6 months. Her main project was to assist in a local health clinic that mainly ran healthy baby visits. They made monthly health treks through local villages, tracking the weight and size of babies. Her other accomplishments included getting a $10,000 grant to dig a bore hole in her village for a clean water source. During my second day at site, M took me on a tour of her newly fenced community garden complete with three new wells. Besides their big tasks, both C and M were planting trees, educating their host families about proper sanitation and health, as well as being a moral support to PC/The Gambia as a whole.
The job of a PCV is quite detailed and involves many different skills. We become experts at making much out of nothing, coping with loneliness, and finding pleasure in simple things. Communication with other volunteers and letters/emails from home become our lifeline. Support yer local PCV. Send a letter.
And as a reward for getting to the end of this post: