Thursday, June 24, 2010

Inspirational Quote

Upon driving to work a few days ago, this quote was displayed on a billboard.

"No person was ever honored for what they received. Honor has been the reward for what they gave."
- Calvin Coolidge

I would think that most volunteers would not identify 'honor' as their primary motivation for joining the Peace Corps. Our motivations for applying, interviewing, and enduring the year-long, medically-intensive process vary: helping those less fortunate, personal growth, the opportunity to immerse oneself in an entirely different culture, and the opportunity to travel.

The quote, however, had me thinking about the reciprocal relationship between PCV's and in-country locals. Volunteers serve - work in education, agriculture, business, health, or community development - their respective communities, while reciprocally, conversing and learning from in-country locals provides PCV's with an enriching, cultural experience.

Just a thought.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aspiration Statement

Peace Corps invitees are required to submit an aspiration statement describing their strategies for working effectively with host country partners, strategies for adapting to a new culture, skills and knowledge they hope to gain during pre-service training, and how Peace Corps service will influence their personal and professional aspirations. Here is mine:

A. What professional attributes do you plan to use, and what aspirations do you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service?

Stemming from courses that I took in the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program at Clark University, I plan to bring leadership, managerial, and organizational skills to the NGO I work for. Furthermore, I will bring cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness to integrate with Ugandan locals, patience and a sincere willingness to learn the country’s official and local languages, and problem solving and motivational skills to encourage locals to volunteer and learn about significant issues that affect their livelihoods.

During my Peace Corps service, I aspire to utilize the knowledge and skills that I learned in my graduate, public administration program to benefit the NGO I work for and the Ugandan community I live in. On a personal level, I hope to expand my knowledge of the Ugandan culture, gain the respect and trust of the Ugandan locals, truly make a lasting impact in the community I serve, personally grow as an individual, and ascertain if NGO/nonprofit work is the career path I wish to pursue after Peace Corps service.

B. What are your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet their expressed needs?

Getting the opportunity to work and live with host country partners (HCP’s) and Ugandan locals was one of my primary motivations for joining the Peace Corps. In order to work effectively with host country partners to meet their expressed needs, I will begin my service with an open mind, an eager readiness, and patience to overcome cultural and linguistic differences; adjust according to the interests, values, and needs of the HCP’s; and work collaboratively with the HCP’s to provide long-term sustainability (improved development and health) to the community I serve.

C. What are your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background?

I believe that I am prepared to put aside my American culture to fully adapt to and immerse myself in the Ugandan culture. Not only is it important to begin Peace Corps service as an observer, but also to enter with cultural sensitivity and awareness. For example, adaquately learning to speak the local language, adhering to the Ugandan diet, and living according to the Ugandan lifestyle are all necessary for cultural integration and acceptance in the community, which will enable me to build relationships and gain the respect and trust of the locals. Nevertheless, I still hope to share (and commendably represent) facets of American culture with in-country locals.

D. What skills and knowledge do you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project?

During pre-service training, I hope to gain knowledge about nongovernmental organizations that will enable me to effectively serve my NGO and promote sustainable development in the community. For example, I would benefit from learning strategies on how to recruit volunteers, and educate locals about the importance of mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS and maintaining proper and sanitary health standards. I also hope to gain the necessary language skills so that I can become fluent in the local language to communicate with HCP’s and in-country locals. Finally, I hope to enhance my cooking skills by learning how to prepare local dishes and cook independently on my own.

E. How do you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends?

Peace Corps service will greatly influence my personal and professional aspirations. On a professional level, it will afford me clarity of my career aspirations by helping me determine if NGO/nonprofit public service work is a suitable career path. On a personal level, it will increase my self-confidence, provide a great sense of self-fulfillment and gratification, and open my eyes to a new culture. Without question Peace Corps service will challenge me physically, mentally, socially, and my moral beliefs (egalitarianism, democratic government, support of animal rights). However, I am prepared and excited to embrace all that the Peace Corps experience has to offer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving Forward

Welcome to my first official blog post! When I leave for Uganda, I will try to keep this blog as up-to-date as possible. I may not have much, if any, Internet service once I'm there. I've read journals from Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) that Internet service in Uganda is severely limited. The exception is if I live and work for a NGO in Uganda's capital city of Kampala.

I unexpectedly received my official invitation from the Peace Corps last Friday. I say unexpectedly because I wasn't anticipating the invitation to be mailed to my home address in Virginia, but rather to my school address in Massachusetts. While my initial state of euphoria has worn off since last Friday, I couldn't be more stoked to serve as a NGO Development volunteer in Uganda! I don't receive my work placement until the end of the three-month training (October 20), but I think my work will entail mitigating the spread of HIV/Aids through public education and awareness, promoting proper sanitation and clean water usage, improving the health and livelihoods of the Ugandan people, and promoting income-generating, sustainable, and community development activities. Also, I've read about volunteers who have conducted secondary projects such as running soccer camps for children, introducing Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to youth, and planting gardens throughout their respective communities. I couldn't be more excited for August 9 to arrive!

Yet with my excitement comes anxiety and a number of challenges. I don't think it's hit me yet that I'm moving from a country that I've lived in all my life to a country to which I'm completely unfamiliar. Learning and adapting to the Ugandan culture, language, and livelihood will undoubtedly challenge me mentally, physically, and socially. No contact with family or friends will also be challenging. And I better learn to cook for myself Ugandan-style; I foresee no opportunity for take-out or microwavable food.

I guess, then, that the saying stands true: "Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer is the toughest job you'll ever love."