The year before I left for Peace Corps the first time, in 2009-2010, I was pretty broken, as I have vaguely alluded to before on this blog. The invitation to Africa, though, was more that just an escape, it was a chance to find good.
At the time, I felt very taken advantage of in both professional and personal relationships. I saw people tear each other down for their own advancement and not care who they spared. On more than one occasion, I was the one being crushed.
I thought that if I went into the Peace Corps I would find good. I would witness good people doing good things and, somehow, I would be restored. Most in development are driven by this idea, believe the best stuff is found in some of the worst places.
Have you even been to a homeless shelter or community banquet? When you see the smiles of young kids, who’ve gone days without a solid meal, as you slop baked beans and corn on to a paper plate, that good, the one so deep in the roots of humanity, comes out. That’s what I wanted to bask in for two years.
Like most who work in development know, that good can be hard to find. Each day, I face a society issue so much bigger than my that all I can do is say, OK, and move on. HIV. Tuberculouisis. High orphan population. Poverty. Corruption. Low passing rates. With all of this mixed together, the good is very, very deep.
And then there is the stereotype that I represent as a white foreigner. I have money so I should just give it out. I should buy things. I should build things. I should give away all that I have, because I have money and I can buy more. Some days, I am just another white hand.
Many come to Peace Corps with bright ideas of making the world a better place and then leave the Third World scared and jaded. Maybe it is my natural-born optimism, but no matter how many times I am shoved to the ground I still believe that good and good people exist.
And, if you keep believing, some day you will see it.
Recently, I sat in a planning meeting for a workshop that I have been trying to plan for more than a year. Our committee of motivated individuals has dropped to two, a village man and myself. Each organization we approach about hosting the workshop wants compensation or money for transport. We kept pushing, believing in the worthiness of the project, until we found an organization willing to do it for free. The woman who will facilitate the organization is doing this on her own time because she too believes. Another individual, someone close to me, paid for the woman to come to my village that day to meet with us. We had challenges to overcome but all of these people were willing to fight for the cause and weren’t going to ask for anything in return.
There is the good.
Looking into those faces, it was there. It may have taken me a while, but I found it. I found the good I was searching for.