As a volunteer you often have ideas of how you would like to see things change in your host country. If you are like me, you dream of making and difference and what that looks like to you depends much on your world view. I thought for certain I would be creating new farms and farming techniques. I was so certain that I would come up with environmentally sensitive climate change action plans.
Annnnnnnd then I got to site. Yup, my ego just plummeted. First off the farmers in my “farm” group, yeah they do not even actually farm for the most part. All they want to talk about is land tenure, which is something that I cannot help with. I tried a few presentations and a demonstration plot, but with no water on the farm it is hard to get real momentum moving forward. Then I tried getting information about my community to do a community assessment. There was much more interest in who I was going to date and begging me to have their babies. So traumatized was I, that I refused to go out without an escort or unless, I had actual business to do in the community. Then the escort I had for the past few months, fell in love with me and literally tried to kiss me one night. Yeah, nope not happening, gotta go! Oh and today was cock-fighting! I told those men they should be ashamed of themselves, those birds have feelings too. They just stared at me like I was crazy. Maybe one day that will end, but not today I am afraid.
Are you concerned yet? Are you scared, well do not be. These are the negatives at my site. Are you ready for the positives? Every single child in my area knows me by name! I have no idea who most are, I recognize faces but unless they have been working directly on projects with me or went above and beyond ,I still do not know names. I am not given a lot of official time with the kids so I have not learned names, yet. Unlike an education volunteer, I spend only one day a week at two different schools (well I have added an hour on Fridays to one school.)
A citizen’s association has formed, and we have one successful project under our belts; more about that later! The community members are now willing and interested in the school garden program and some people have offered to come help. The literacy program that has been running for about four months has some positive results and more people are joining all the time. People who could not read or write are now reading and writing some. Some people just want stronger comprehension and we are about to take the entire group to the local library to get library cards next week!
You have to celebrate those small victories. But when a huge victory comes along you might want to yell from rooftops! Last week we quickly, and on short notices organized a clean-up day for the community. The Friday before was national school clean-up, so I thought Ash Wednesday was a great day, since it is a holiday. The turn out was amazing. Much of our community was cleaned of trash and bags of bottles were put down to the school for recycling. The amount of persons who came out to clean was amazing, but there were section that were not cleaned. We had debated on another clean-up day, then the Ministry of Health announced that February 20 is National Clean-up day! Bam, we immediately changed the signs and put them back up. We are ready for another round.
Sadly, two weeks ago or so, a family of three died of CO poisoning due to using a generator inside the home. The tragedy had rocked the community pretty hard. Today was the grave digging, sometime next month is the nine-night or dead yard. As a respect I went down to the grave digging, which is quite a bit like a party but with sadness, if that makes sense. The first thing we noticed, as I was with the PRO of the Citizen’s Association, Tressa, was the garbage on the ground. We had considered talking about the clean-up but decided that it was inappropriate to do so, but why not bring some trash bags to the yard to help eliminate the need to re-clean that area on Saturday. The second people saw the first bag they began picking up the trash. It was like the most amazing moment in my time here. People actually do care. They do not want trash on the ground, it is just that there are typically not trash pans to put the garbage in. Within minutes, most of the trash was picked up and put into bags and a huge smile lit my soul. This my friends is the first sign of behavior change, and it may be small, but it is a forward movement. This is why I am here.
These are the moments that outshine the bad things. The things that keep you moving forward and keep hope in you alive. Never forget these moments, because there will be very dark days that make you wonder why am I here? On those days you can pull up that memory and it will give you a substantial reminder of indeed, why you are here!