In Peace Corps philosophy, every project should have a local counterpart—a community member who is (hopefully) as passionate as you are. You learn from each other while doing that project. This is called “capacity building.” Ideally, volunteers never do anything alone. The point is to empower community members to do things themselves, to connect them with the right people/contacts/funding…whatever it may be. Then, in the future, after you are gone, they may continue the work without you.
That is the pie in the sky view of things. When you are on the ground, things begin to look a lot different. How do you organize the community to host an event? Which people do you choose as counterparts? When do you pull back and let others take over? If people seem excited but don’t do their end of the work, do you catalyze them to do more? Or do you realize that the community buy-in for the project is low and abandon it?
Over the course of my service, I have allowed my projects to be dictated by community members’ interests. I haven’t felt lazy or bored, for the most part. Every week, my schedule fills of its own accord. There have been specific instances in which I have taken initiative, like teaching life skills in the schools and giving health talks at the clinic.
November and December can be slower months. Schools are closing and people are leaving for the holidays. Lately, some volunteers have done events relating to the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. I think it would be a great thing for us to do in Shoshong. Perhaps a march, poetry contest when schools open back up…something. Gender-based violence is rarely talked about and I think we should open up the dialogue. Peace Corps volunteers can be really useful in this regard. Culturally, it can be difficult to talk about sensitive issues. Because we are foreigners, it is easier for us to initiate community dialogues about things like gender-based violence, HIV, sexual practices, etc.
I am breaking my mold a bit in spearheading an event myself. My plan is to have the community come up with the whole event, if they think it is a good idea in the first place. And then we will go from there.
Slow moving is okay. In fact, it is wonderful. It is how I have lived for the past year and a half. But there is such a thing as allowing yourself to become idle and complacent. And I don’t want to feel like my service is over. I have six months and I intend to utilize them…or I intend to try, anyway.
We all make choices about how we want to conduct our Peace Corps service…how we want to enjoy our lives. And at this point, my choice is to continue to be active. That is not to say that any of my projects will succeed. But at least I will have attempted to do something.