Peace Corps Blog It Home 2014

Update: Voting link is live here on Peace Corps’ Official Facebook account. Vote for me to travel to D.C. to share my stories about Guinea by ‘liking’ the photo in the album and sharing with your friends! Voting runs from August 4th to August 10th. Thank you for your support!

Jul 25: My inbox this morning held more treasures than the usual “Buy one get one FREE” and “XYZ Political Organization Needs Your Money Now” nuggets. I was happily surprised to see an e-mail from a dear college friend who I haven’t spoken to since I’ve left. Memories came flooding back; who I was then, who I am now. I sat on the floor of my house and reflected on all the changes that I’ve been through in the past 8 months. A constant feeling of gratitude courses through me.

But what really shocked me was an e-mail from Peace Corps telling me that I’ve been selected as a finalist in the 2014 Blog It Home competition. I receive monthly e-mails from Peace Corps and remember seeing the one announcing this contest. The subject was “Win a Trip to Washington, D.C. in September” — of course my interest was piqued!

As I’ve mentioned to you all before, the Peace Corps has three goals:

1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women

2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served

3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

This competition, the e-mail stated, would recognize Volunteers who use their blogs to support Peace Corps’ Third Goal of sharing other cultures with Americans. I thought about my blogging hobby, closed my e-mail, and proceeded to forget all about it. It seemed too daunting and that obnoxious, tiny, inner voice reported that it was painfully obvious that my blog wasn’t good enough. Several days later I received a text message out of the blue from a fellow Volunteer in-country telling me about the contest. She saw the e-mail and thought that I should enter – so I did. Tiny voice, be damned.

I’m pretty shocked and humbled. I love to write about Guinea; I take it seriously, plan what I want to say, erase and rewrite, reorder and rethink. I want to get things right, I want to portray it correctly. I owe it to Guinea. She’s a beautiful corner of the world masked by ignorance (Do they pierce their noses with bones?) and fear (Oh my god, but the EBOLA!).

So, thank you — to my mom and her friends, to my friends and their friends, to people who google “peace corps guinea” and stick around to read. You all inspire me to get what’s inside of my head out, to share, to teach, and to keep learning. And, obviously, a thank you that will forever be on my lips – to Guinea, to the friends and family I have gained, to the lessons I’ve learned, to the adventures I’ve had, and to all that’s to come.

The next phase of this competition is a public voting on Peace Corps’ official Facebook account. The judging will be done by number of “likes” and several Volunteers will be chosen to go to Washington, D.C. September 14th to 20th to participate in a Third Goal Conference at Peace Corps HQ. I am honored to be a finalist and would love the opportunity to present my story and to learn how to share it with even more people.

So, I’ll be calling on you all. The contest will run from August 1st to August 10th. Once it’s up, I’ll share the link. The public voting will be used to help the Office of Third Goal staff choose the winners.

Please, guys, like me? And tell your friends I’m pretty likeable, too.

You’re Official Now, Kid: In-Service Training is Finished

Well – it’s official. I’m done my in-service training. I’m an “official” volunteer now, ready to start projects and make a difference in my community. But, I thought I became “official” after pre-service training? And didn’t someone tell me I was “official” when I stepped off the plane in Guinea? Didn’t they say we were “official” when we met for staging in Philadelphia? When does one become an “official” volunteer? Better yet, what is an “official” volunteer?

My group of 32 stellar folks has finished our 3 months of site evaluation and 2 weeks of training. We’re now trained in grants, monitoring and evaluation, project design and management and a variety of technical skills. We’re supposed to hit the ground running and ~save the world~, right?

Well, sort of.

For the rest of our time here in Guinea, everything we do is in our hands. We’ve got no boss breathing down our backs to get the report turned in by the deadline. Imagine yourself in our shoes for a second –foreign, grappling with language, working with minimum resources. Everything around you is different. Many people don’t believe you can accomplish anything. Maybe you don’t even believe in yourself.

The problems sometimes seem awfully big, while we seem awfully small.

But we persist. To me, an official Peace Corps volunteer is someone who has committed. We have chosen to be here and we actively choose to remain here. Although our days may pass slowly and we may not always seem busy (in the American workforce sense), we are working 24/7. Peace Corps has three goals within it’s mission:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans

Living with a host family, making friends with people of all ages, walking through the market and talking to the women selling – viola! Goal 2! This blog post? Letters back home? Facebook interactions? Phone calls? Viola! Goal 3! And as for Goal 1? We work within the context we have been given. Some of us visit gardening collectives, some of us visit health centers, some of us teach in schools. When we gather for events we share our successes and failures and we think of ways to adapt them for our sites. We google for new ideas. We read dozens of text books. We try our hardest; we work with what we know and we learn what we do not. That is what an official Peace Corps volunteer does.