I have been in service now for almost a year, and everyday I wake up with this overwhelming sense that I don’t know what the %^&* I am doing. I feel myself being pulled in many directions- between the needs of my community and my own interests and skills. Its like I am on Naked and Afraid, trying to figure out how to get out without knowing where I am suppose to be going, and Siri is on the fritz and keeps leading me in circles, and I’m hot, I’m tired, I’m hungry and I’m starting to smell.
S.O.S. Send help
En La Lucha
Dear En La Lucha:
I accepted my Peace Corps invitation without understanding what it was that I would be leaving to do. I am 24 months into service now, just three months away from completion, and I am finally understanding what role I have played in my community. I comprehend how I fit into the general concept of sustainable development in my beloved town. Looking back, I see the rollercoaster of emotion, work, relationships, and trust building that has been my service. Half of service is letting go of expectations, and seeing how your community wants your time and energy to manifest in their home.
My proudest achievement in Peace Corps was one of my secondary projects. Secondary project means it did not directly align with the set of curriculum that Peace Corps gave my sector to work on, but has community backing and thus reason to invest myself and time into it. The Club de Cultura Mundial (World Culture Club) was born out of the true spirit of Peace Corps service, and Ill explain why.
After a day of Brigada Verde (Green Brigade) lessons, I decided to put on a movie in the computer lab during lunch recess. The students chose one of the movies in Spanish from my limited selection, which happened to be X Men. At the beginning of the movie, there is a reference to the Holocaust. A grim scene of men, women, and children with stars of David on their shirts in line to be stolen away from their homes and sent to the internment camps. I immediately recognized the scene from my previous study, but my kids asked me:
“Que esta pasando?”
I hastily replied to them
“Es una referencia al Holocausto”
(It’s a reference to the Holocaust.)
and continued to watch the movie. This is when the kids asked me a heart wrenching question that Ill never forget.
“Que es el Holocausto?”
(What is the Holocaust?)
Could they have just asked me what I think they did? I had an image of my seventh grade English teacher gasping in my head. Eyebrows furrowed, thoughtfully contemplating how to answer such a question to a group of young adults. After all, when I was studying this subject, we spent half of the school year studying WW2 and the atrocities of the Holocaust, so we would leave knowing the destruction of discrimination, and the atrocities permitted by a fascist regime filled with hatred. I still remember when we got the assignment to bring in a representation of 11 million of anything. The complete grief and helplessness of visiting the museum of tolerance. Meeting Ben Lesser and hearing him speak. Going to a conference of Holocaust survivors; putting faces to the stories so hideous you don’t want them to be real. In my experience, the Holocaust was taught to such an extent so that we would truly “never forget”.
But the Holocaust isn’t in the National Dominican curriculum. Meaning, it isn’t even a subject that is covered… At all.
We turned off the movie and began with the basics. What is genocide? What is culture? The questions continued and soon lunch recess was over. The next day, the social studies teacher approached me. She asked me what I had said to her students, because they were all asking her about WW2 and the Holocaust. I informed her, and she said “we should set aside a time where we properly discuss this with the students”. Now, formally I am a HEALTH volunteer sent to speak about water sanitation, HIV, diarrhea. But this was one of those organic secondary project moments that comes from being flexible and attentive. As a volunteer, I had access to the information. I had a group of people interested in hearing that information, and I had a new local counterpart who wanted to help present the information. (Talk about dream project!) Being flexible, filling in the gaps, connecting people to resources, training trainers to disseminate information, even learning NEW skills in order to teach what it is people are wanting to learn. That is Peace Corps.
We decided to pull a few kids from each of the grades to form an invite-only after school group. We called the group Club de Cultura Mundial, and began with WW2, the Holocaust, Ann Frank, and we had a Jewish volunteer come in to speak about Jewish Culture. Then we had students begin to approach us about leading their own presentation on different subjects that interested them.
We had started the group close to the end of the school year, so we only were able to get a few months in. But this is my favorite example as the answer to “what do Peace Corps Volunteers do?” Well… We are motivators, organizers, cheerleaders, hair braiders, diaper changers, an extra pair of hands, listeners. We put out colored pencils and paper to see who shows up, we challenge the status quo by being our genuine selves. We live in our communities and find home in a different country among the relationships we encounter. We are not sent to give things away or preach a specific world belief. In the end Peace Corps’ agenda, with its numbers and figures, doesn’t even matter, and ultimately our administration understands this. The spirit of Peace Corps is cross cultural exchange through genuine friendship and trust. Is self motivated, grass roots learning. Is cultivating community leaders that continue on long after we are gone. We are merely people who come from a different world view, with different skill sets to try and connect the passionate spark of self initiated community development to resources that can feed that flame.
I arrived without a clue as to what I had gotten myself into. At the end of my service, I see that perhaps the kids wont remember our condom charla. Maybe, no one will remember how to properly wash their hands. Maybe people will still drink contaminated water. But I know my community will never forget my personality, when I dyed my hair purple, or my tenacious belief in the capability of girls to do anything they want. They’ll never forget how I dance in the street, how I say hello to everyone, or that time I cried in the middle of the street when my dog got hit by a car. Its not always pretty, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but letting go of my preconceived ideas of ideas and projects and Peace Corps, and allowing my service to flow where my community wanted and needed me is one of the most joyous, life changing experiences I have had and will ever have.
Meet our Soon-to-be-RPCV:
Name: Carli Renee
Community: El Limon de Jimani, Baruhoco
Sector: Last of the Health Sectors
COS Date: October 2017
Post Service Plans: After service ill be moving to the Southern coast of the Dominican Republic to continue my work in development and pursuing a Masters Degree in sustainable international development.