“What was the craziest thing you have ever done?” This question was asked about a week ago at our mid-service training put on by Peace Corps. Each person had to write down their answer “secretly”, then the instructor would read them out as we guessed who it was. Sitting there, contemplating what my answer would be.. The first things that jump in my mind are sinking 30ft under water while suba-diving, throughly enjoying the taste of chicken intestines or running naked through the halls of a government building all seemed pretty crazy. Although, they weren’t the most insane things I’ve done in my 22 years here. The thing that far tops everything else in my life as the “craziest” is being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Being a volunteer is a whole other species of crazy that by far trumps the other nutty things I’ve done in my life. The *observed* cow poop drinking, bucket bathing, chicken killing, hitch-hiking, and a thousand proposals later… lifestyle I live now is pretty out of the ordinary from the American life I had before I became a Swazi. Cue the middle class white girl with supportive parents and a college degree in Social Work that wants to “change the world”. She never even knew how to polish her own cement floor or sweep the dirt in her homestead.
Along with the risks of living in a place outside from my comfort zone, comes rewards in the form of a dog named Tjani and the joy of meeting new people on a daily basis. Day after day the rewards greatly out weight the sacrifice in this beautiful country that I call home.
Recently, I have been going through a low point of not feeling accomplished and becoming uncomfortable to answer the question of “what are you doing there in Swaziland?” This shouldn’t be such a daunting question to answer as this is my only job for two years. I can ramble on about the activities I’m “trying” to start, but the short answer would be I have nothing concrete to show for the 11 months of my service so far.
This really hits deep when I have been give a lot of myself, trying my best with what I have to work with. This feeling of unachivement is emphasized when I hear about the successes of my fellow volunteers. “Don’t compare yourself to others”, YES yes I know, but it’s hard not to do so when the people you are comparing yourself to have been through all the same training as you and I really want to live up to what expectations I have set for myself. I’ve learned its not an even playing field when it comes to successes and failures of volunteers.
What I have gained this last week from mid-service training is the fact that I’m not the only one who is feeling this discouragement of projects not working out and still trying to find the right balance of my life here. Many MANY people in my group are struggling in the same ways I am (finding motivated people, keeping a new project sustainable, or dealing with the constant harassment from men). I felt tears of frustration and happiness let go as others explained to me the exact feelings I have been experiencing. Being secluded, miles away from a support system AND not feeling accomplished for the very reason I’m here are all exuberantly frustrating. These are not fun feelings to have, but of course they are ultimately apart of my time here. Coming together with other volunteers gives you that rejoicing feeling of “I’M NOT ALONE IN THIS!” For that I am so very grateful for my fellow volunteers here.
So, why is it so hard to get things done here, specifically in Swaziland?
Two Swaziland volunteers from our fellow group went to Zambia for an HIV bootcamp conference where another 12 Peace Corps countries were represented. They overwhelmingly learned that Peace Corps Swaziland, is one of the few countries that doesn’t pair the volunteers with existing organizations in country. The volunteers that attended the conference explained to us that almost all other countries pair their volunteers with NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations) to work alongside with in a rural community. I have had personal experience of this when meeting other PCV’s in Madagascar & Mozambique. Partnering us with NGO’s and already existing organizations would give us direction and structure in our communities that, I feel, we somewhat lack of right now. I’m sure there is good reason for this structure specially in Swaziland, but it’s something I struggle with even after being in my 11 month of service.
New volunteers are gladly dropped into communities in hopes of creating projects that the community needs and keeping it that simple. This sounds motivational as it is very “grass roots” and we as Peace Corps volunteers do not put our agendas first, but we put the needs of the community first and foremost. Some volunteers flourish in these conditions, but it seems to be the luck of the draw who is successful in their communities and who is not. A strong determination of a successful volunteer is made by the people and the leadership in the community in which you are placed. If you find motivated hard working people, then yes you can get a lot done. Otherwise you just have to keep trying until you get traction with something meanful and well supported in the community. We have to work within the framework of Peace Corps because that is what makes our projects sub stainable after we leave. In places like Swaziland, where we not paired with NGO’s, volunteers are responsible for finding people in the community that 1.) Have project ideas. 2.) Have time to work with you on the project 3.) Are motivated to continue the project after you leave 4.) Will do all of this for FREE. Finding a person or a “counterpart” for all four of these is a jackpot, and we volunteers brag about the motivated people we find in our communities. Super volunteer said, “There are youth in my community that have created a gardening project for the children in my village who are going hungry!” *AKA jackpot*.
Every time I return to my site from a few days in town, a vacation or a training I find myself needing to take a deep breath and look at my community with a fresh heart and mind. I do this to find a new sense of motivation and make sure I don’t have a bad attitude. I always enjoy the saying “Enjoy the ride!” and I will continue to do so.
“Velezizweni presents: HIV TESTING & SPORTS DAY”
A soon to be success story? I hope so 🙂
My two counterparts and I will be hosting three HIV testing events disguised as “sports days” to attract youth aged 12-32 (as this is the most vulnerable age for men and women). My community is large, so we are having the events on three consecutive Saturdays in June in three different “hot spots” in my community that have sports grounds (big open fields). Local soccer teams will be playing for the prize of a goat at each tournament. HIV testing will be free and available at each event along with HIV counseling and condom demonstrations. My hope is that if the free testing is available, and most importantly accessible, that the youth & adults will seize the opportunity to get tested. I have also contacted 5 outside organizations that have resources in Swaziland to join in on the event and promote their organization to my community. So, let the games (& testing) BEGIN!
NCP/ Preschool Construction
A person in the leadership council in Velezizweni brought in two Bomake for a meeting with me. They said they have been struggling with completing a preschool structure that is really needed in the village. I am starting to help them by writing a grant through Peace Corps with them to complete the construction. I’m excited because these are people who are already motivated and want to work with me!
My fantastic GLOW club is on hold currently as my student helper is facing disaplinary action from the High School. SO will be trying to find a new person to work with.
-I’ll try to keep updating more! It’s my birthday this weekend & there is the biggest Southern Africa music festival in Swaziland this weekend! Over 20,000 people are traveling to Swaziland for the event. Lots of other PCV’s from other countries will also be joining us, so it will be a good time 🙂
I’ve officially been surfing in Hawaii, Australia, and Madagascar all before I turned 23. One could say I’ve lived a pretty good life!
Thanks everyone for the love and support
“The best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask” – Jeff Johnson
One thought on “I’m Not the Only One”
Keep up the great work Ally. It is so rewarding to hear your experiences and please don’t ever think you aren’t accomplishing important things there. It may not seem huge to you but it is to those you are helping!! Keep up the great work and keep smiling!!!