Future PCV Seeking Wisdom
Here is a message to the MNRPCV Listserv from a future PCV about to leave for service, followed by several interesting and insightful responses from Minnesota RPCVs.
My name is Clarissa and I am leaving for my Peace Corps service in Malawi on February 24. I’m going to be a community health advisor working with HIV/AIDS prevention and education. I’m really excited and pretty overwhelmed with preparations. I attended the MNRPCV anniversary party in the fall and one of the happy hours and both times I was overwhelmed by the kindness, good stories and advice everyone had to share. Meeting a bunch of RPCVs from my area really solidified for me that this is exactly what I want to do and that continues to be really helpful when I feel nervous. I’m
looking forward to coming home and telling all of you my own awesome stories.
So this is a favor request for all the MNRPCVs for your wisdom and assistance. If anyone has any advice for me in my service, any tips on certain things to bring or certain brands that you recommend for equipment. If anyone is interested in selling any secondhand equipment to me (solar panel charging device, folding chair, solar shower etc. – you know the
drill). Any well-wishing words or “good lucks “ for me; I would appreciate immensely.
Thank you so much and I’ll see you all soon!!
RESPONSE NUMBER ONE
I address this to the group, because I hope others will add in. I was 27 years old when I stepped on the airplane for Senegal in 1982 – 29 years ago this summer.
Thus began the most amazing 2 years of my life. We used to mutter the Peace Corps tagline of the day (and I’m sorry they put it aside) that we were in the midst of the “the toughest job you’ll ever love” – and how true this was. At various time you are lonely, sick, confused, and frustrated. You are a stranger in a strange land. You are playing a game and you don’t know the rules. You’re not “making a difference.” And yet……somehow, for most of us…..it does come together. We connect with people in their homeland and learn of the world and its marvelous complexities- we learn to BE in a culture we never imagined.
Next to having children, I would say that being in Peace Corps is the experience that most informs my adult life. It is the prism through which I see the world, even almost thirty years later, and probably no day goes by without my thinking about it in one way or another.
- Keep a journal. A private journal that no one can see. Blogging is not a substitute. You need a place where you can be totally, totally honest.
- Take advantage of training – both the language and the cross-cultural training.
- Travel as much as you can – you might never have an opportunity like this again. After your first year, or after you serve your two years and get your readjustment money- you will be as adventurous and as competent as you will ever be in your life!
- Get to know your host country people – they’re why you came. You don’t want to be mired in the ex-pat culture….
- But – your fellow volunteers – and the ones your fly over with and train with – are your most important support group. Value their friendships – many will last a life time.
- Finally – Being frustrated and unhappy will happen. But if you reach a point where you know something has to change, that’s life. Get help, and do what you need to do – whatever that is. Volunteers leave early (or transfer) for all kinds of reasons.Good luck to Clarissa – and others on this path – and I hope others will add to my list!Debbie, RPCV – Senegal 1982-1984
RESPONSE NUMBER TWO
I just returned from service 10 months ago and I agree with everything she says. Especially remember that you will have extremely hard days where you just need to travel for 2 days to see a fellow volunteer. Then there will be the days that you have so much fun in your village you never want to leave. It all balances out creating the most amazing experience of your life. Enjoy it all!
Good luck and have fun!
Kelly, RPCV – Thailand 2008-2010
RESPONSE NUMBER THREE
Travel light, I needed a lot less than I brought and left everything. Your new home will have most of what you need and want.
I liked my work, but my favorite work was not what I thought I would be doing. The things that I helped with continued to emerge from the people I met and my own curiosities. Be open to the people who show up in your life.
Enjoy and explore,
Randee, RPCV – Tanzania 2007-2009 – Education Volunteer
RESPONSE NUMBER FOUR
I learned two things as a Peace Corps Volunteer – actually, at least three:
1) The importance of getting to know your community inside-out (wherever you are in the world) before you can expect to have an impact. That is what I brought home with me.
2) That the most effective volunteers I knew were the ones who found out what their in-country Counterpart was interested in, then bent over backwards to do whatever they could to help realize their counterpart’s dreams. I am sure those PCVs benefitted hugely from that approach.
Be willing to be your counterpart’s “boy Friday” or “girl Friday”. The nationals know their community better than you do, and their country far better than you ever will. Those of us who just immediately “saw the litter” and tried to develop a garbage pick-up system generally failed. (I did too — my project wasn’t garbage, but I had a hard time accepting that it is more important to serve well than to lead. Though I probably did some good, it wasn’t my bright ideas that should have been targeted).
3) That it wasn’t me who was the Volunteer. I was earning a stipend from the US government (basically a dependable salary in your country of service), while my counterparts (employees of a broke government) were not receiving pay for three to six months on end, yet were still trying to do their part to keep their organization afloat. Who were the real volunteers? (How I wish we were really called PCCs – Peace Corps Counterparts — so that we would not come across as boasting that we are giving up so much, when the in-country counterparts are often stuck with their situation – and mine had as good an education as I did).
Just watch and learn, do your best to live with integrity, and learn to love your new home with your whole heart.
Kriste, RPCV – Paraguay 1987-1988
RESPONSE NUMBER FIVE
Here is something I wrote shortly after returning from Ghana at the end of 2000. Hope you enjoy and grow and make lasting friendships.
LIVING – WORKING – STUDYING IN AFRICA
Expect the Unexpected
Things don’t come together in a predictable or linear fashion, but they do come together in surprising ways.
People need to trust you before they will move forward and that trust grows from how you live in the community.
Be prepared to live without “amenities”
(We call them basics) Water, electricity, phones, transportation and abundant food are irregular
Use technology appropriately
Use technology to accomplish what people need and want to happen, not just for the sake of using it.
Respect Indigenous knowledge
The American way is sometimes helpful, but not always the only way or the best way.
Respect the people that you work with.
Honor your own contribution
What you are contributing is not always apparent or measurable. Change often comes one person at a time and may happen long after you have gone.
Don’t make judgments, make friends
THIS EXPERIENCE MAY CHANGE YOU FOREVER
Sala, RPCV- Ghana 1998-2000
Response Number Six
Suggest a head lamp. Lipakala,aka.
Genna, RPCV – Zaire 1986-1988