When I went to Maseru a few weeks ago, a thick manila envelope with my name on it was waiting in the Maseru District box. Inside it were Peace Corp materials: the Lesotho newsletter, the headquarters publication and the magazine from the National Peace Corps Association. At site, I rifled through the materials, reading stories about Peace Corps 50th events and volunteer projects. Eventually, I couldn’t read anymore because I was too depressed.
I read about others’ projects and do-gooding and started to doubt my capabilities to even do something worthy. I spent so much time observing and learning, that when it actually came to the doing, could I? I wasn’t sure.
Yes, I know that I’ve only been a volunteer in Lesotho for a month, however, combined Niger and Lesotho and I’ve spent nice months under Peace Corps. However, five of those have been in training and the other four were spent integrating. I haven’t really done anything, although my time abroad seems like a good chunk.
This line of thinking was starting to impact my attitude. I walked out the door with doubt and negative thoughts swarming me like killer bees. Of course I wouldn’t be able to help anyone with a grumpy demeanor.
In attempt to answer some questions for my Phase II assignment (a series of tasks that each person must complete during our first three months at site; they are meant to help us integrate and learn about our villages) I arranged a meeting with the chief and a few other village leaders. When the day came for the meeting, I realized there would be several people, more than I thought, in attendance and my list of history and what do you do questions didn’t seem adequate. I needed something bigger to show my interest and so I whipped out PACA.
Volunteers all over the world use PACA as an information gathering technique. You use it to learn about the community happenings, such as seasonal calendar and day-to-day activities. It’s also a great way to identify possible projects. We started with strengths, so the villagers could plainly see what good their communities already have to offer. Then we moved on to strengths and needs. Eventually, we indentified a top need and a solution.
I’ll admit that I am not the biggest fan of PACA. In Niger, my training on the activity wasn’t smooth and left a sour taste in my mouth to the point that I denounced the technique in my Lesotho training. One of my main problems is that people often indentify problems too big for lowly volunteers to solve, such as lack of electricity, hospitals and jobs. I feel defeated before we even start anything.
Now, to be fair, I’ve never actually done a PACA session outside of training. I really had no desire to try, but, at this particular meeting with the chief and village leaders, a voice inside my head screamed “DO PACA.” So I did.
To my surprise and delight, the group identified a project that was manageable, a health workshop. They want to teach surrounding communities about hygiene, drinking clean water and basic first aid. Not a small task, but something we could definitely do, so we organized a planning group and another meeting time.
The group members understood that I was there to help co-facilitate, not give them money. They were willing to work with me, but lead the project themselves. In addition, the man I asked to help translate took over the meeting and is now extremely excited to help with the project. I honestly couldn’t stop smiling after the meeting.
It may the first time that I actually felt like a real volunteer. There will be bumps and hurdles, and more than likely failures, but this one meeting gave me hope that I can make the most out of the next two years and be a great volunteer. It was my breakthrough.