“Why did you join the Peace Corps?”

My most recent column for the Capital Journal

I’ve never had a definite answer to the question, ”Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?”

“To help people” and “to see the world” are my most used answers but neither really sum up why I am here.

Peace Corps was something I casually considered in college but, with the encouragement of looming school loan payments, I chose employment. Yet, the desire to serve overseas never went away, even as I did a slight career change from newspapers to non-profit. Eventually, I realized that if I didn’t join the Peace Corps I would regret it and even pictured myself on my deathbed saying, “I wish I would have.”

To become a volunteer, I gave up a lot, more than just fancy coffee drinks and hot showers. I had a great job, a furnished apartment, an active social life and close proximity to my family. That all changed in order to reside in a third-world country and live on $9.13 day.

Four months into my 27-month commitment, there are days when I do ask myself why I am here. Many volunteers join under the premise that they will “change the world” but the reality hits quickly that won’t happen. As I become more familiar with my school and village, I’ve realized that the big issues – poverty and the devastation of HIV and AIDS – are not things I can fix. I am just one person here for a short time and, eventually, I will return to my privileged life in the United States. What good can I possibly do?

Since the beginning of the school year, I noticed one student constantly behind. He often fell asleep and rarely cared to take notes. After class one day, I pulled him aside and asked him what was going on. He said he had a hard time understanding me through my accent and was unable to keep up with the lesson. I told him to always come to me when he didn’t understand something and that I believed in him.

The next week, I gave the students an assignment on tenses and expected that he would struggle the most of my 23 students. But, he surprised me. He had a few simple mistakes, but really understood the concept and put more effort into it than I had seen all year. Maybe I didn’t do anything, but something snapped within him.

As I try to grasp my role as a volunteer and in the village, I know the real reason I am here is because of that one student. I may do nothing else of importance in my service, but to see a slight improvement in just one person is enough to make the world better. For two years, it is worth all that I gave up to be here and serve my country as a volunteer.

March 1 is International Peace Corps Day and I am wildly proud to be part of this organization. Wherever I go and whatever I do beyond Lesotho, I will carry this experience. I am tied to Peace Corps for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

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