The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Peace Corps Reconceptualized

Many people talk about how Peace Corps is not what it used to be.  Most volunteers are given cell phones.  We are all expected to fill out a quarterly report with objectives, goals, outputs and outcomes.  Many volunteers have regular internet access and are able to contact people at home quite frequently.  This is not the picture of the Peace Corps of the '60s and probably not the picture many people have in mind when they still think of it now.  It makes sense that PC is changing.  The world is changing.  Internet is available in more places, as is running water and electricity.  So our lives within PC service should naturally change as well.  There is nothing wrong with this.

But PC is caught between its history and its future with no clear direction.  Some volunteers are still doing development work in the way we normally think of it--digging ditches, building agricultural systems and teaching in schools.  But more of us are moving to projects in secondary states of development--working on things like behavior change related to health, educational systems and curricula (rather than first-hand teaching), etc.  There is plenty to do, but PC needs a reconceptualization if volunteers are to be as effective as they could be.

PC is still thought of as the free-flowing, life-changing, design-your-own experience.  But the constant push to monitor and evaluate our impact takes away much of the spontaneity of past PC.  There is nothing inherently wrong with M&E.  In a political climate in which Congress is increasingly hostile toward PC, trying to put numbers to dollar signs is important.  This aspect cannot be overlooked.  However, assessing if people REALLY learned anything from your health talks is difficult.  And ascertaining if people are REALLY changing behavior based on ANYTHING you do is damn near impossible.

To PC's credit, increased infrastructure has meant better training, better safety and care for volunteers.  These are great things.  I have only experienced one kind of training, that of PC Botswana.  So I can't speak for many others directly.  Yet, I have met currently-serving volunteers in Senegal, Mali, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Macedonia, Burkina Faso, etc.  We all have differing views on satisfaction from our experiences.  And within any country, there are volunteers who end up doing a lot of activities and others who don't.  Sometimes it is the primary job site that makes it difficult.  Sometimes it is the village.  Sometimes the volunteer doesn't have the right tools to figure out how to make things happen.  And sometimes we can try until we are blue in the face and nothing sustainable gets started.

Sustainable.  There's that word.  The word everyone talks about.  Sustainable development.  What in the world is that?  From what I understand, the idea is that we help people in our villages build something that will continue when we are gone.  I am not talking about a house or a building.  I am talking about programs, activities, increased learning...whatever it may be.

Peace Corps is great for building world peace and friendship - 2 of its 3 goals.  But it is not very successful at measuring the level of sustainability of its programs.  I don't believe this is a unique situation within PC Botswana.  I think it has to do with PC philosophy within the entire organization and manifests itself in trainings.

In training, we are taught many roles of a volunteer.  We can be a learner, a change agent, a facilitator...blah blah blah.  These are sessions that Washington hands down, so I know every volunteer worldwide is getting the same spiel.  It's like it dances around two words that would change the way each of us looked at our work: community organizer.  That is what we are.  We are community organizers.  When a fellow Botswana volunteer used those words when talking about her service (she had served in Mali before coming to Botswana), a light bulb went off in my head.  Ah hah.  So that is what we should be doing!  I firmly believe that Peace Corps thinks it explains this and explains how to do it.  But it doesn't.  Like my friend said, understanding this would probably result in less volunteers.  Being a community organizer is hard work.  Going into a community, learning the language and trying to help it see things from another perspective in order to cultivate innovative solutions is really tough.

Even with this acquired knowledge of a month ago, I haven't been able to make huge changes in my service.  I have been more active in trying to bring people from different sectors together.  I have urged a more community-based approach to events rather than top-down planning that is oftentimes implemented.  PC says to find the "movers and shakers" in the community and work with them.  It gets challenging when the official opinion leaders are not the ones who actually do anything.  Finding the people who actually want to work means your sustainable development projects will look a heck of a lot different than you thought.  And what if you feel like you live somewhere for two years and nothing sustainable comes out of your work?  How would you feel?  I guess I will find out in 8 months.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Indonesia: Jogjakarta

Okay this is my last post about Indonesia.  I promise!  There was just so much to see so I wanted to put up as many photos as possible.  After about a week and a half in Bali, I left the island and headed back to Java.  The easiest way to travel back to Java is by plane.  Of course I decided to do a 24-hour adventure that included a bus, a ferry and two trains to get to my next destination: Jogjakarta.

My lovely bus leaving Bali at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Public transportation is VERY prompt in Indonesia, something which surprised me.  Needless to say, I am not used to that in Botswana.

Boarding the ferry that took our bus from Bali to Java

I decided to be a Chinese tourist on the ferry.  The main entertainment was a little tv that played very loud karaoke.  I thought it was hilarious.  Behind us are all of these karaoke cd and tape covers.

This is Sanet, my friend that I met on the overnight train in Java.  She was so sweet!  I still talk with her on facebook every couple of weeks.  I don't have a photo of it, but she gave me a cute pair of heels!  How nice is that?!  She is one of the most genuine, beautiful people I have ever met.

'Nuff said.  I was in HEAVEN to see one of these at the train station.  Unfortunately, no bagels.  But coffee and donuts? Awesome.

After all that traveling, I arrived in Jogjakarta.  I decided to go to Jogja as my major stop in Java because it was said to be interesting.  It had a lot of cool cultural things in the city.  Outside of the city was a large Buddhist temple, Borobudur, that I really wanted to see.  I met up with a girl named Dorotha at the hostel and spent my two days in Jogja traveling around with her.

The first night in Jogja.  Dorotha and I went to Malioboro, the main street in Jogja.  There were artisans selling everything on the street--tourist souvenirs, clothes, sweets, fruit.  It was quite a scene.

The next day we went to Borobudur.  It is a site to behold.  Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world!  Construction started in the 8th century AD.  A couple centuries later, the temple was abandoned because of volcanic eruptions.  So it was completely covered with volcanic ash and not rediscovered until the 1800s by the British.  Now it is a World Heritage Site.

When you enter a Buddhist temple, you are supposed to walk around the whole thing three times clockwise before you can enter it.  This practice is called circumambulation.  Borobudur has even different layers, all covered with reliefs of Hindu and Buddhist stories, like the ones pictured above.  They are beautiful.

View from Borobudur, Buddhist statue on the left in the dark

I find this absolutely hilarious.  If you see on the left side of the picture, it says "NO SITTING."  If you all don't know, Buddha is famous for just that...sitting.  That is the purpose of Buddhism.  In meditation, you sit in order to center yourself and reach enlightenment.  I thought it was so funny that there was a sign saying not to sit in a Buddhist temple.

Later that day, Dorotha and I explored the cultural sites within Jogja.

This is the Sultan's palace, called the Kraton.  The Sultan is still an important person in Indonesia, but doesn't hold the political power if I remember correctly.  Different parts of Indonesia had sultans.  So this is the palace of the Jogjakarta Sultan in particular.  They have traditional dances at the Kraton usually.  Unfortunately we weren't able to see one because they don't do them during the holy month of Ramadhan.

Inside the Kraton.  The colors and columns are beautiful.  They represent different aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam.

BEST mode of transportation in Jogja.  These things are so much fun!

Dorotha and I inside one of those little man-peddled carts

Then we went to this beautiful Batik art place.  Batik is a Javanese tapestry.  It can be worn as a sarong or put on the wall as art.

Here are women making Batik.  They use hot wax of different colors on other cotton or silk.  It dries and then they peel it off to reveal unbelievable designs.  They range in price from $15 to hundreds.

A look within the Batik shop

After a couple days, I left Jogjakarta.  It was a really nice ending to my Indonesian trip.

Looking out of the train through Java on my way to Jakarta to fly back to Botswana