Exactly one month has passed since I packed away my hammock and bid hasta luego to my neighbors, backyard full of plantain trees, favorite colmado, goats, and other familiarities of the campo lifestyle to move to the capital city of Santo Domingo. With a metropolitan area of around 3 million people (compared to 4,000 in Pescadería), one could imagine how much of a contrast this next year will be from my last two here in the Dominican Republic.
Ultimately, the transition from campo life into office culture has opened my eyes to a number of things (leadership, diversity, and an endless thirst for learning being the hot topics). I’ll get into more specifics about the context of these events later, but first, understand the source of some of these realizations below:
- The Power of Introverts: a TED Talk about the importance of accepting and celebrating introversion.
- Quiet Leadership: a book about how to be a more effective leader by helping people think.
- Empathy: a short cartoon about the difference between empathy and sympathy.
- The Danger of a Single Story: a MUST WATCH TED Talk about stereotypes, diversity, and perspective.
- Fast Company Magazine: old magazine, new information about ingenious companies and organizations.
- The Guardian: dynamic news source from the UK (introduced to me by my new friend Mike – owner of an authorized Apple repair store down the street from the office who served here in the DR with Peace Corps in the 70’s).
As the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the Community Economic Development (CED) sector, I am now based in the main office where I share a work space with the other Sector Volunteer Leaders (health, education, and youth). I work closely with both the Program Specialist and Associate Peace Corps Director of the CED sector to provide support to volunteers, to monitor current projects and initiatives, and to develop future sites where business volunteers could continue collaborating with locals to make a positive impact on the economic environment of the Dominican Republic. As PCVL, I am no longer working on-the-ground alongside members of my community (though I still go back to Pescadería whenever I get the chance), but rather with Peace Corps Volunteers themselves. From this perspective, I am able to draw on my own experience as a volunteer and a new-found proximity to PC staff to facilitate information between PCVs and the office, be a sounding board, and help to ensure that aspects of volunteers’ service and office politics suit and are understood by all parties involved.
An effective way to do this new role (but really, pretty much any role) is to ‘keep a pulse’ on things. We learn this as volunteers by going out and getting our hands dirty – living and working alongside community members to achieve goals together. This sort of gumption creates confianza, is an authentic commitment, and provides perspective. Does researching a city via your computer count as visiting it? Knowing it? No. It’s a single story. Until you’ve met the locals, eaten traditional dishes, explored some back roads or alleyways, and most importantly, gotten lost, I’d be hard-pressed to check that city off of my bucket list. Same applies to successful, sustainable development work.
“Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets”
So, in terms of the PCVL position, one of the best ways to continue collaborating with PCVs and supporting the Peace Corps community and mission is to do just that – taking my hands away from the dust-free keyboard, leaving the comfort of AC, and going out to visit current volunteers at their sites. My goal within the next year is to visit each of the 30+ PCVs in the CED sector at least once (by the end of June I’ll have visited about half, si dios quiere). These visits allow me to understand the intricacies of each volunteer’s site (project partners, living situations, projects and activities, etc.) and having this contextualized perspective enhances my ability to provide empathetic support. Recognizing and appreciating the diversity of both the volunteer community and Dominican countryside has been an enlightening adventure within itself.
To better educate ourselves on how we can be proactive and cohesive throughout our service, volunteers representing all PC sectors came together this week for a workshop on diversity. Motivated to highlight the issue within the Peace Corps community (especially considering the legal and political environment of where we’re serving – read more on the issue here), we spent two days telling stories, recognizing privileges, learning what it means to be an ally, and recognizing the true diversity that exists in the world, even among a group of 30 Americans. This workshop, like the other sources I mentioned above, has empowered me with an experience and information I will continue to reference throughout both my Peace Corps service and life afterwards. So here’s to continuing to get my hands dirty – the more stories the better.
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”