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.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Seen and Not Seen

At some point, we may begin to wonder how we will be remembered in our villages.  Will people say good or bad things about me?  Will they tell the next volunteer that I did a bunch of projects I didn't do?  In many ways, thinking about this is futile.  We'll never know and it can only make our heads spin.

On the one hand, it would be nice to be remembered in conjunction with projects.  On the other hand, having locals forget about me and view all of the work as their own would be amazing.  The "official" point of all of this...Peace Corps I to empower locals to do things themselves.  So if they look back and think, "Hey I organized a great event!," they will feel a lot better than thinking, "Hey that Peace Corps volunteer put on a great event!"

I began thinking about these things because of a conversation I had with someone in Shoshong.  I had worked with him on some community projects early on in my service.  Although I have invited him to more recent meetings, he has been unable to attend.  This was our conversation over text messaging:

Him: U once had an idea to mobilise funds for a youth center.  Any progress?
Me: No.  It's not right for me to embark on things alone and no one else has shown interest this past year.
Him: Sorry about that.  Which means you gonna leave without at least one project.
Me: What do you mean by that?  I have done many things and assisted many people.  Not everything I do is visible to people.  You can do projects that aren't about buildings...
Him: It's okay.  I was not aware of those projects.  Thanks.

It was pretty discouraging.  This is a man who has known about a lot of my projects.  He is a leader in the village.  And he thinks that I have not had any projects?

Part of me thinks: should any of this matter?  So what if this guy thinks I haven't been doing anything?  I know he is wrong.  My co-workers at the clinic and my other partners in the community know he is wrong.  Regardless of what I tell myself, it struck a chord.  Is this what people generally think?  That I am just taking up space?  After two years of community work, it was hurtful to hear that.

But perhaps his view of Peace Corps is the view of many...that we are here to build infrastructure and do very public projects.  Some volunteers have done that...they have built pit latrines, houses for poor people in their villages, held races and other large events.  We did a large event in Shoshong for Month of Youth Against HIV/AIDS last year.  Those events are great, but most of what we do is behind-the-scenes...teaching at schools, advising someone on a business proposal, etc.  The real sustainable change often comes from one-on-one interactions.  And most people in our villages won't see our daily work.  At the end of the day, that has to be okay because it is the reality.

Because our "work" might not always be visible, the best thing we can do is be good members of the community...we can be respectful to people in a culturally-sensitive way and try our best to attend important events.  And we are making a difference.  I know the friends I have made and the people I have helped will remember me.  That's what has to sustain you.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting comments and your reaction. You are right, there will be no way to really know what people will say when you are gone. I can tell you I know from being there and watching the little kids run up to you and watch the teens talking to you and watch the adults call you over for a chat over their fence. You have lived in Shoshong and been a party of your community. You have comforted and laughed with folks. You have made life long friends. You have lived. You will be missed