It is easy for me to fall into the mindset of viewing my Peace Corps experience as a single story of pure cynicism. Eric and I applied with the intentions of working in the environmental sector, but once that fell through, you could say we “settled” for education. Teaching is difficult every single day, and I often still feel underqualified for the position that I’m in. It’s easy for me to feel underappreciated. It’s easy for me to feel like I serve no purpose here. It’s easy for me to feel like I’m not making a difference here. It’s hard for me to learn to appreciate the small successes that I can make here.
In my interview for Peace Corps, I brought up my hestitations about working in the education sector and not being able to do environmental work, and my interviewer, misleadingly, told me that that is what secondary projects are for. Peace Corps blogs further reinforced this idea for me that you could follow your interests to help your community. The “ideal” volunteer in my mind was one who taught, but also had time to promote gender equality, HIV/AIDS education, environmental education, and healthy living practices through after school clubs. The reality is that secondary projects depend on your community needs, and if you go in with a predetermined agenda, you are doing your community a disservice.
Peace Corps, through in through, is a service organization. And at the core of it, I came to serve a community in need. It is unfortunate that my community needs do not align with my interests, but I am working on accepting that selflessness is the key to a successful and meaningful two years of service. My school may not need an environmental club, but what they school do need is an automated school bell, a passing time schedule, Microsoft Excel and Word training, a computer based grading system, and a discipline system coupled with positive reinforcement. Fortunately, I have the skills and experience to be able to help them with these basic needs, and helping with things that my community needs, rather than what I want, will prove more sustainable in the long run. I only hope that they are open to working with me in return.
I may not be serving in the environmental sector of Peace Corps, but all Peace Corps volunteers, regardless of sector, sign up to utilize their skills to better a community. While I may be qualified as an environmental and ocean engineer, my skills in organization, technology, communication, and research can be used to transform my school through small but meaningful changes and improvements. And that is the story that I will chose to focus on.