Counterpart

This was published in the Capital Journal in July.

Around the six-month mark of my service in June, I attended a program design and management training. From nearly the day I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in December 2011, I fretted about this particular conference – the counterpart workshop.

Volunteers around the world are assigned counterparts, someone in the community that assists volunteers in creating and implementing projects. The volunteer offers technical support while the counterpart utilizes knowledge of the community and culture to make sure the project is completed and sustained once the volunteer has returned to the United States.

The idea of a counterpart unnerved me. In Lesotho, we are allowed to choose our own colleague for community development work in addition to our teaching responsibilities. Yet, how was I supposed to find a counterpart – the perfect person – to work with? What if no one wanted to work with me or I didn’t feel comfortable around anyone to consider a close ally? What if that highly motivated, highly skilled person did not exist in my village?

Immediately upon moving to the village, I began scouting for a possible counterpart. I tried to gage motivation and community development interest in a few people, but I hadn’t found that golden person I was hoping would arrive at my door. Just three days before the June workshop, someone finally agreed to go with me – Eric.

Eric is the pastor of the village’s Lesotho Evangelical Church, which oversees my school. He is the school board president and has organized an agriculture group to teach villagers development through farming. He is a kind man, with great English, so I took a chance and invited him to come with me.

Prior to the conference, I didn’t know much about Eric, other than he seemed to have an interest in improving the community. As we devised plans and sorted through Ideas, his passion for improving our village broke through. He’s attempted development projects in the past, but nothing stuck.  Yet, he didn’t give up. The more we discussed, the more it was apparent that we were on the same page in our efforts to help the village better itself. By the week’s end, we had pages of ideas and a solid friendship.

Since the conference, Eric and I meet nearly daily to discuss our projects and mine the community for other motivated villagers. We have big ideas and some will be met with serious challenges, but we both understand that.

More importantly, we’ve both come to realize we are not alone. I am willing to put in the work because I know he is, and vice versa. We constantly remind each other that things are better now, now that there is a ‘we.’ There is an amazing sense of reassurance when you know you have someone – someone who you trust – right along side you to fight the good fight. I have that in Eric and, because I do, I feel like anything is possible. We both do.

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