My family is what you might consider a “Peace Corps” family and for years, it’s been a reflection of who I would become. 6 years ago, I made the decision that I would join Peace Corps after my college graduation and I would be a part of the legacy. After hearing stories from both my brother and my step-father, I was enthralled and enamored by the idea of being a Peace Corps Volunteer and I was ready to begin my journey. I knew serving in a developing country would be challenging but rewarding.
One year in, Peace Corps has been nothing I thought it would be but everything I needed it to be. Peace Corps told me “the toughest job you’ll ever love” and as they drill all the things I should do even halfway through my service, it breaks my spirit a little more. You must be patient and flexible. You must “engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning, and respect.” You must “commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed.” My patience and flexibility have been tested in every way imaginable, from transport that arrives late to teachers who value monetary value over useful action. I’ve learned that I’m more patient and flexible than I thought I was.
Teaching in your second year is different than your first in many ways. When I arrived at site, I was naive and full of enthusiasm. I was ready to pave the road and make some real change in my community, especially in the school compound. I was brought in as a teacher and I was ready to fulfill those duties. Then, came the challenges. The lack of student participation in class, the lack of enthusiasm for my innovative ideas from teachers (teachers who by the way wanted me to help them in their English but when I provided options to do so decided that it was not important to participate), the amount of time it takes for any projects to get started on my school, the lack of my own personal office space, and even sometimes, the lack of support I feel from the administration staff. When I arrived back in Chiri after my MSC (Mid-Service Conference), my eagerness to start back up in school was slim to none.
Teaching takes a toll on a person, not just physically but emotionally and mentally. How am I supposed to be vivacious when I don’t feel it? How am I supposed to start a club that is vibrant when students leave the school to pursue an education at a better high school? (There were 110 students who took their entrance exam to college in grade 12 and of those 110, only 11 passed and could continue their studies). How am I supposed to compete with teachers who just don’t want to be teachers?
This was my real work, I thought: staying optimistic in spite of everything that could go wrong and is going wrong. As I stare out to the faces in Chiri, I find myself contemplating “what makes their hearts beat, what makes their eyes shine, their skin glow, their blood flow.” Some days, I catch glimpses and I swear, it’s enough to make me continue. My landlady, Atsde for the last few years has been taking the 10th grade national exam so she can go back to school. She needs a 2.0 to pass and she’s just a few points shy of it every year. But, every year, she tries. It made me wonder, how can she keep this up? And it hit me: she tries because trying is always better than not. As I witness this, I realize: “this is my prize for being patient, my reward for being flexible.” I can’t go anywhere because I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.