Thursday, July 11, 2013

TWO YEARS!...Maybe I'll Just Stay Forever?

On July 11, 2011 I stepped on a plane leaving SFO bound for Madagascar and began a pretty cool journey. Over the past two years, I’ve tried to use this blog as a forum to share my little piece of unique Madagascar. But the reality of living here isn’t always so simple to explain. Madagascar is arguably the poorest country in the world. It’s number four on the list of top ten countries to experience a coup in 2013. It’s challenging for Peace Corps and other aid organizations to work effectively with the Malagasy government because of Madagascar’s political situation. The past five months have personally been my most difficult as a Peace Corps volunteer. Every other week seemed to bring a new setback; it was like trying to swim upstream. After struggling for months to secure grant money to fund my malaria education project, I faced the hard truth that my project was just not going to happen how I dreamed it. That was really hard to let go. I felt frustrated as a volunteer. My community members and counterparts seemed unconcerned and uninterested in the project once the going got rough so I felt very much on my own, something I was not prepared to feel almost two years into my service. Ironically, it was at this most difficult point that I had to decide one way or the other if I wanted to extend my service for a third year.

I considered extension abstractly for the better part of my second year; it seemed like a good idea, and I liked it here enough. Why not? But my recent struggles really made me take a hard look at my motivations for staying in this country. I grappled with my decision and definitely got a little emo and cried about it and yelled a few times to some sympathetic if not exasperated listeners. But in the end, it was easy. Of course I would stay. Madagascar isn’t finished with me, and I’m not finished with Madagascar. There are still many more things for me to learn, and many more things I want to accomplish here. My difficulties over the past few months are just another example of learning to live what has become my Peace Corps Madagascar mantra: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” WORD. Ok, so it’s a cliché, but its true for me! So many things in my life are out of my control, and finally, FINALLY understanding that there are just some things I can’t change was a huge breakthrough for me. So I adjusted. I focused on little projects; mini-trainings of community health workers, a community mural, and small scale student-leadership trainings with a supportive organization, Pact. It was through this collaboration that I found the partner I have been looking for and the perfect fit for my third year extension. I am happy to share now that I will continue living in Madagascar for another year as a part of the Pact Madagascar team! A little background, Pact is an international NGO based out of the US that recently began an education and student leadership initiative in the Fort Dauphin/Anosy region. They are taking me on as a third year Peace Corps volunteer, and together we will focus on empowering local youths with the knowledge necessary to be leaders within their communities and to lead healthy and successful lives. Visit them at NICE.

Looking back on my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer is very enlightening. Even though there have been difficulties over the past months, there have also been really awesome experiences. I was able to transfer the grant money I received from Peace Corps to my site mate Sam, and she and I are going to continue working on malaria education over the next year in Commune Mahatalaky. Starting the student Peer Leadership trainings with Pact is really amazing. Seeing students learn and stretch their minds to understand completely new concepts of leadership is a privilege. I visited Reunion Island and climbed some mountains and scuba dived in some oceans. It’s not all hard work and frustration, but sometimes you have to remind yourself to remember the fun stuff more than the not-fun stuff :).

Has the Peace Corps always been easy? Definitely no. It’s sometimes an extremely isolating and lonely experience. Has the Peace Corps been rewarding? Immensely. When even getting a child to wash their hands can be a victory, you learn to celebrate every little thing. Would I commit to the Peace Corps all over again? Absolutely. I believe in the mission here and I believe in what I’m doing here, even when it’s hard and even when I cry and even when I’m so frustrated I have to go out to a rice field and scream. I think this country can continue to teach me humility, patience, and most of all, joy in even the smallest of things. I think I can continue to learn and grow with Pact as a partner in my third year. I am excited about what is still in store for me in Madagascar and I am thankful for the opportunity to finish what I started when I stepped off that plane two years ago. 

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