A new volunteer

Boys doing a traditional dance.

Boys doing a traditional dance.

Back in January or February, a principal from a nearby primary school came to see me about doing a world map project. He knew we had one, although I didn’t do it, and figured I could help him do one. Maps are a big Peace Corps project across the world and I knew it was possible, but as we talked more I thought he needed more than a map. He needed his own volunteer.

I gave him the appropriate contacts and encouraged him to apply for a volunteer. The principal had so many great ideas for the school and I could tell he would make a terrific supervisor, so I helped him with the application and walked him through PC requirements.

The education staff was interested in the school and decided to do a primary visit. Since I live near the school and they like to consider a current volunteer’s input in site selection, they asked me to come along.

Two Peace Corps staff, including the education project’s assistant director, a driver and I went out to the school, although we got lost first, to meet with the teachers, parents and community. The meeting was all in Sesotho so I sat quietly trying to interpret reactions as the community and school were told what they needed to do in order to host a volunteer. After the basics were laid out, a few community members asked questions and made comments.

Based on my observations, it didn’t seem like they were that interested.

A few times, the Peace Corps staff looked at me and laughed. Apparently, the community thought I was going to be their volunteer and, after it was explained that I already work at another school, they still insisted that I stay with them. It was quiet sweet.

Turns out, they were very excited at the prospect of getting a volunteer and the whole village was ready to rally together to make it happen. One woman said she had a place the volunteer could stay but she also sells local beer out of her home. She said she would suspend her business, her precious income, just to make sure the PCV was safe, to which Peace Corps said was not necessary and they were confident they could find a home.

They even prepared traditional dances and songs for us, as if they were welcoming me, and a feast. The kids stared at me like I was made of gold and glitter. They were in awe of what they thought was their new teacher.

I kind of wished I could stay, but I belong somewhere else. I do know that if that school receives a volunteer in the next education group, and it looks likely if they can sort out logistics and it passes safety requirements, he or she will be in a great place. It is incredibly beautiful and the community is already ready to welcome him or her.

My supervisor and I have decided, due to on-going issues at my school, that I will not be replaced, although the site is eligible for one more volunteer (each site is allowed three consecutive volunteers and they can revisit the site as a potential placement after several years). I agree that is by far the best decision, but it does sadden me and I do doubt that my work is sustainable, even though I won’t be able to judge that until years later. However, I think one of my greatest contributions as a PCV will be helping another site, a very worthy one, get a volunteer. This school really deserves it and I will fight to make sure that happens.

In a few months, I will have to write a report about my work in Lesotho, the description of service, which will be stored in Library of Congress. Knowing myself, I will likely feel that I didn’t do enough while here, but I have to remember this. Peace Corps has been in Lesotho for nearly 50 years and it is a very valuable organization to the country, although it is hard to specifically define successes at times. Still, it’s helping create leaders and if I can do my part to continue that tradition than I did OK. I did OK.

 

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