I’ve spent the last few weeks doing a lot of reflecting, even more so than normal. This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve finally put up my hammock, which has become one of my favorite places on earth.
But there’s more substantial reasoning behind it too. I’ve been in my site for almost one whole year now. In the midst of filling out grant information to receive Courts for Kids funding, completing twice-a-year mandatory Peace Corps’ monitoring and evaluation forms, and witnessing current PCVs tie up loose ends in the office while closing out their service, it’d be unnatural not to pause and think about how I’m spending my time here.
So what do I think? Well, I am learning lot, and am seeing that my presence is actually making an impact. But before I get into, let me remind you what my job is. My mission as a Peace Corps Volunteer is three-fold:
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans
Facilitating courses/workshops/trainings, attending conferences, empowering community members and leaders, and providing personal and professional support are ways I fulfill Goal 1. Goal 2 and Goal 3 are harder to measure, but are equally if not more important; they motivate us to use friendship and cultural exchange to establish mutual understanding and peace. Yesterday I made French toast and shared it with my neighbors while explaining to them what maple syrup is. That is an example of Goal 2. And lastly, a big thanks to YOU – yes, those of you that read and follow my blog help me to realize Goal 3.
While striving to accomplish these three goals, I have learned to become more appreciative, patient, creative, and assertive. I’ve developed many friendships I wouldn’t have otherwise. I go to bed tired but wake up energized, hungry to experience another day ‘on the job’. I have not lost sight of my humor, and am both thankful and proud that I can be myself in my community. Bottom line is that I’m happy I have another year left. I have many things I still plan to accomplish or to continue enjoying:
- May 4th I will graduate over 40 girls from the Chicas Brillantes group. We have raised over RD$1600 as a group, the majority of which came from raffling off a chicken dinner. We have established a directiva that is in charge of managing funds, keeping track of attendance, announcing and organizing activities, and keeping the group active once I leave. I am so impressed by their maturity and dedication to the initiative, as I know they are not only prepared but also excited to multiply the information they’ve learned in the course within the community.
- THE COURT. Yes you can still donate, and we need your help! Courts for Kids arrives June 8th, so by June 15th we should have a fully functioning basketball/volleyball court, si dios quiere. Learn more about the project by clicking here. Donate to the project by clicking here. The mayor brought 5 of us that are working on the court project here to visit a PCV in a nearby community who is also building a court through Courts for Kids – pictures below.
- Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams). Currently mentoring 4 youth from my community who are interested in starting a business. I’m teaching them the skills required to elaborate a detailed business plan (marketing, financial literacy, mission/vision statements, cost analysis, etc.). We are participating in the regional Construye Tus Sueños conference at the end of the month.
- Attending a Somos Mujeres (We are Women) conference in May with 4 women from my community where we will discuss entrepreneurial skills, the importance of saving money, various health topics, and do a whole lot of dancing, singing, and dinámicas. Gotta love doñas.
- Believe it or not, I’m still teaching English. I’ve got three loyal students who have mastered the present tense. Baby steps.
- Attending meetings, offering advice, and playing with baby goats at La Cabrita. They just purchased a beautiful, new tractor, which we all took out for a spin around town.
- Brigada Verde (Green Brigade). I plan to start this initiative when classes finish in June (and when I no longer have to worry about the court!). I’ll hold co-ed meetings where we learn about a vast array of environmental topics. I hope to organize various community activities with the participants of this group – paint trash cans, murals (here’s where you come in Auntie Mary!), community trash pick up, gardening, etc. To generate interest in the initiative, two other volunteers and I have solicited grant money to organize an eco-hike along the coast of Barahona. If accepted we will each bring 6 members from our respective communities, facilitating the creation of a network based off of environmental stewardship and cultural sensitivity.
- Reading and studying. This is where the hammock comes in handy. I’m currently enrolled in an online course called The Age of Sustainable Development, taught by Jeffery Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. We’re learning about the pillars of sustainable development – social inclusion and cohesion, environmental sustainability, economic prosperity, and good governance – and the importance of acknowledging and understanding the relationships between all four. I’ve become very invested in this field of study, especially because I’m learning about it while living in an impoverished country, where I’ve been able to recognize parts of the discussion in my daily life. Even beginning to look at graduate school options!
Anyway, those are the highlights as of now. Regardless of the day, be it slow and nostalgic or fast-paced and fruitful, goals are being met, bonds formed, stories shared, music danced, pictures taken, and lives impacted. Thank you for joining me on this journey – I hope you choose to keep learning and growing along with me!