Does Any of This Matter? 

Peace Corps service is often shrouded in mystery. This is true for family and friends of the PCV, as well as the PCV. The question often gets asked what do PCVs do. The answer to that differs from post to post, and amongst volunteers serving in the same post. 

Peace Corps boasts three goals. 

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Before my service, I thought of Peace Corps mainly in terms of goal one. I thought about the tangible work. I thought about the data driven outcomes and evidence-based practices. While all of those things are extremely important, they are not of sole importance. In the 18 months that I’ve called Swaziland home, I have known many volunteers who struggled with the idea of “not doing enough”. At times, I have wrestled with the question of whether or not I’m doing meaningful work. In ten years, will it matter that I taught that Life Skills class? In seven years, will it matter that I co-facilitated that permagarden workshop? That’s the Goal One lens of Peace Corps. 

Some time ago, I was perusing Reddit when I was reminded of something salient. Not only does Peace Corps have more than one goal, Peace Corps service is as much about diplomacy as it is capacity building. It’s important to build community spaces. It’s important to build the community’s capacity for effective and sustainable change. It’s also important to build and foster friendships. It’s also important to show America as more than the often told single story of rich white people living lives of great abundance. 

There are times when the presence of a PCV leads to valuable conversations about America and the world. This is not to suggest that PCVs or America have “figured it out”. I don’t believe that we have; however, I believe that magic happens when diverse voices, ideas and perspectives get to sit at the proverbial table and speak freely. The metrics don’t exactly capture that. Similarly, they don’t capture the newfound excitement of the Form 4 student who tells me that he’s looking forward to my class tomorrow. They don’t capture the conversation with the young lady who expressed her excitement that her community gets to host a Black volunteer. 

On the other side of that diplomacy coin is (hopefully) the eradication of the single story that (insert host country/region/continent here) is only one thing. Previously obscure places become more than names on maps. With personal stories and experiences, Africa becomes more than a singular, monocultural place made of brown and bush. 

As I start to wrap things up here in Swaziland, I’ve pondered more on what it means to have had a successful service. My reflection has shifted my focus from making monuments to making memories. I haven’t built or renovated any structures in my community. However, I have taken my students on a world tour (including my home in DC) using Google Maps Street View. That probably won’t be in any annual report, but seeing the faces of my students as we explored the streets of Abuja, Paris, and Cairo makes up for any lack of metrics. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Swearing In: a special picture post

On Thursday, my group (G14) along with six Peace Corps Response volunteers took an official oath of service in front of several other currently serving volunteers, dignitaries, community members. Here are some pictures from the event. 

Our country director pinned each of us. It’s a cool pin that has Peace Corps’ logo with the flags the US and Swaziland. Photo credit: Aaron W. 

Black excellence in action. Period. 

Group 14 of Peace Corps Swaziland and the Global Health Service Partnership (PC Response), along with the country director, deputy chief of missions, Ministers of education and economic development. 

My teacher is the best in the business. Timmya challenged me to make sure I learned siSwati. I’m going to miss being in her class. I will get to sleep a bit more. So there’s that. 

These ladies provided great support. I’m looking forward to the next two years. 

As you might know from the previous post, I gave remarks on behalf of my training class. These remarks were given in siSwati. I even ended up on the Swazi evening news. Feel free to read those remarks here. Photo credit: Aaron W.

Students from Saint Frances Primary School performed traditional dance during the ceremony. Photo credit: Aaron W. 

Fancy feast. It’s a brand of cat food in America, but for swearing in, it meant eating like a king. 

If you know me, you know I try to burn bright 366 days a year. Shouts to my brothers and sisters headed to Black Rock City now. 

Thank you to all of the wonderful people who made this happen wherever you are in the world. 

Be kind to yourself. 

Onward.