I call her “Nabu”, and she is my 7 year-old host sister. She is the oldest of the siblings here and therefore takes on most of the responsibilities of the household. At the tender age of 7, she often carries around her (rather rotund) host brother Ibrahim, 2, on her back. Have you ever seen an ant carry a blade of grass? Yeah, it kind of looks like that. Nabu is a dancer by nature. At any given moment, sans music, she will be dancing. When you see her demure smile paired with her charmingly erratic gestures of pure joy, you laugh, then you dance too.
According to Webster, Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity. Over this past week I’ve shared some contrasting views on Voluntourism, which is increasingly prevalent and controversial in our globalized world.
Having served in Morocco as a volunteer full-time for two years, my views on volunteerism have certainly morphed from what they were in high school, college, and even grad school. It may seem ironic that coming out of this international service experience I am more convinced than ever that local community service is where the real change happens. When people are involved and invested in the community of which they are a part, they can help create an environment that reflects their values. Lasting change happens when folks are invested for the long-term. It stands to reason that people have more cause to care about the long-term outcomes of their actions for the community in which they live and plan to raise their children than in some random spot on the globe.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for volunteering in a community that isn’t your own. Whether it be in a state that’s been hit by natural disaster or advancing water-security internationally, sometimes an issue needs more hands, resources, and minds tackling it than what might be available in the affected area. But how do you bridge the sincerity and personal investment people have for their own communities to a foreign community and, possibly, culture? This is where an organization like Peace Corps comes in.
One of the biggest critiques of voluntourism is the lack of understanding volunteers have of those they’re “helping.” This ignorance can lead to mistaken actions that are neither helpful nor sustainable. And the short-term nature of Voluntourism doesn’t leave room for the volunteers to see the real effects of their actions. The structure of Peace Corps is thoughtfully designed to avoid the pitfalls that seem to be haunting this growing industry. Here are 6 ways that Peace Corps not Voluntourism.
1. We Live with Host Families
The first step to understanding a culture is, not just seeing how they live, but living how they live. By staying with host families we’re able to observe and participate in the little things that might never be captured in a “cultural session.” Understanding the lifestyle of our host country nationals is paramount to shaping the action-steps we take throughout our service. It helps us see what the real needs are, the cultural constraints, and how decisions are made. Living how those around us live plumits us into the community in a way staying a hotel or dorm never could. We eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep, and wear what they wear. We are a part of the family.
2. We Learn the Language
Learning someone’s language is an indisputable way to show that you really care. It isn’t easy; it means constantly exposing yourself to failure; it shows long-term investment. Sometimes, PCVs learn languages that no one has ever paid any attention to before. And it isn’t just about being able to express ourselves, it’s about being able to understand those we’re with, hearing their thoughts, singing their songs, crying to their soap operas, laughing to their jokes. Though we never stop being students of the language, our effort says “we’re not just passing through.”
3. There is No Agenda
The other day I was sitting at the women’s center with the new volunteer in my site. One woman was teaching the PCV a stitch that is used for the traditional Moroccan clothes. As we sat there sewing and chatting with the women, I had an overwhelming sense that this is where the magic happens. While I admit it is frustrating at first, Peace Corps does not give us much direction on what to do in our communities. I realize more and more each day just how appropriate it is that they don’t. True development is ecological not top-down. Peace Corps doesn’t barge into communities with a plan (even if all the American volunteers are begging for one), instead the volunteers watch and wait and listen and learn and then find ways to fit service in. Shwya b Shwya, or Little by little, is our motto here.
4. We Listen
When speaking to the 100+ new volunteers that recently arrived to Morocco, I told them You may be asked to teach English or something you don’t want to do, but you have to remember this isn’t about what you want, it’s about what they want. Listen to your community and meet them where they are. Start with English-it’s your foot in the door- and as you get to know your community you will learn how to introduce other things. But always remember, what you want doesn’t matter. When we don’t listen failure is bound to happen. In fact, failure is bound to happen regardless, but listening to our communities is a huge part of having a service that is effective and allows our failures to be transformed into learning opportunities.
5. We Capacity Build
They say that in development our goal is to put ourselves out of a job. And Peace Corps volunteers often work towards just that. We are encouraged to find community partners for every activity or class, teaching them how to teach and lead if needed. A project done without a host country national is not considered sustainable and sometimes even frowned upon. Our primary role is to promote volunteerism of people in our communities. If our presence somehow inspires those around us to invest in their town and believe that positive change can happen, then that is a job well done.
6. We Stay for Two Years
Development takes much longer than two years, but it’s long enough to lay a foundation and get things started. Two years is long enough to learn the names of the kids on your street, long enough to celebrate the annual holidays with your host family, long enough to watch favored characters on the soap operas get murdered and come back to life, long enough to watch your baby host sister learn how to speak and master words you still can’t pronounce right, long enough to watch your friends get engaged, married, pregnant, and become mothers. My village in Morocco is my home and the people I serve are my family, neighbors, friends.
It is undeniable that some folks sign up for Peace Corps to have a neat, easy, satifying experience, but Peace Corps is none of those things; development is none of those things. Those people either realize and embrace the struggle of true development work and call forth the patience to see their commitment to the host country through, or they quit after a few months in country. Either way, they are forced to come to terms with the fact that Peace Corps is so much more than Voluntourism. A sincere volunteer always remembers this is not about me, realizes the value in an unAmerican level of patience, and learns that being uncomfortable doesn’t mean you can’t be happy.
So ask yourself this when considering volunteering outside of your community: What are my intentions? And have I done my research on this organization?
Jumping right into my first real Lesotho post, I’ll begin by saying the lack of “material comforts” is the easiest thing to adjust to. I do think fondly of shiny white porcelain flush toilets, but the latrines work just fine. And honestly, without being forced to go in a corrugated iron closet with paperboard for a (very fragile) seat, I never would have developed the skill of squatting, holding up my skirt, holding the door closed, and warding off aggressive flies all at the same time. Definitely a resume booster. I brought a little solar charger that does the job for my small electronics, and I kind of like the routine of heating water and taking a bucket bath by the light of a paraffin lamp. My family hauls in big jugs of water every day on the donkey. I really don’t miss constant connection to internet. In short: living arrangements are quite comfortable.
My host family is wonderful. I’m staying with the chief, an awesome strong get-stuff-done kind of woman who is in charge of our entire cluster of training villages and wrings out my wet jeans like they’re flimsy cotton. There’s a whole troop of little ones between the ages of three and eleven living in the family compound. My Momma the Chief is actually their grandmother; the parents work in other towns or live in a different part of the village (more on this later, but family structure and raising children is very flexible and communal in Lesotho). Having so many siblings is a mixed bag. They’re fascinated by my belongings and always want to touch everything. They turn up and start chattering in Sesotho just when I’m the most frustrated and need time alone. However, there’s nothing quite as heart-twinging as having a five-year-old spot you walking home and come screaming “Sista Mosa!” and then grab your legs and ask to hold your hand. I thought I was melting when tiny Masanadi whispered in my ear “Sista Mosa, after school tomorrow will you carry me on your back like a Basotho mother?” Darling, you should never trust me to carry you on my back like a Basotho mother.
Doing this whole Peace Corps training thing a second time is a bit frustrating, and I can’t wait to move to my permanent site and actually start teaching. Really, our days are very unexciting. We just sit in language or methodology sessions for hours. Our greatest source of entertainment is watching everyone shave their heads during lunch break (guys and girls. It’s something of a PC Lesotho tradition, but I will not be taking part). Once a week we take a trip to the regional center with an unpronounceable name so we call it TY, and this is where I am now, sitting in an internet cafe, finishing what I hope is an engaging blog post. I must also buy some groceries, send some letters, and get pizza and whiskey before our taxi departs, so I will leave you now. Sala hantle, stay well until next time.
P.S. I left out what might be the most interesting part of the transition to PC Lesotho: our various stomach ailments, uncomfortable digestive issues and bowel movements. So many good/awkward/embarrassing stories there. Definitely too good/awkward/embarrassing to publish on tumblr.
My mom sent a package and three weeks later I finally got it in my grubby little hands. After lots of miscommunication, I thought it was lost, until a student, Florida, helped me and got it where it needed to go.
The inside was amazing, she fit so much inside a flat rate package! She has some magic powers when it comes to shoving things inside of a suitcase or box–hence the reason I usually ask for her help when packing. But wow! She even sent some kids books which will be perfect for the classes I’ll teach at the Primary School next month, and I’m so stoked to have cinnamon and Italian herbs to cook with. AND CHEESE! Velveeta! I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet, but it will definitely taste better than the expired cheese from the supermarket that smells like the inside of my dog’s ears.
Thanks mom! 💙 Time to test out some Italian herbs!
I woke up this morning at the normal time to which I allow myself to sleep when I don’t have to teach in the morning, around 8 a.m.
By this time, all the students are already at school, which means, for a few moments, my neighborhood is relatively quiet.
This morning, though, as I was in my kitchen heating up water for tea, I heard people outside my neighbor’s house. She’s a nice lady and makes her living usually by being a tailor. In the past few months, she’s also started selling the local moonshine out of her house. For 100 CFA, men come by, take a shot of sodabe and then ride off on their motorcycles, rarely staying more than 5 minutes. One of my favorite nighttime activities is to sit on my front porch and watch how many of the men who stop by I recognize, either as colleagues or the father of one of my students.
When I came back from vacation three days ago, a small hut with benches and tables had been erected outside her house, I guessed in an effort to expand her business, at least expand it out of her living room. And business has expanded, the area outside my front door becoming less like a front porch and more like the street outside a bar, but besides moto horns and loud voices, there haven’t been any real complaints.
And so, this morning, as I sipped my Harney & Son’s Tower of London tea, I silently toasted the men taking shots of sodabe next door at 8:30 in the morning.
I don’t wear makeup. I don’t care if my legs are shaved. Clothing labels mean nothing. Things that used to matter so much no longer do. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to look and feel nice, but I do it on my own terms and only when I want to.
While I still have aspirations of being a lawyer, recently I have been thinking about the possibility of fulfilling a long time dream of mine and joining the peace corps after under grad.
I guess it may seem a little crazy, but it is something I really want to do. I want to get out there and see the world and help those in need. I want the chance to see places and meet people I would not normally get the chance to meet. And I want to do it all before committing myself to three years of law school.
I still plan to take the LSAT next year since the score will be good for 5 years so nothing really changes. But once I started thinking about doing this for real, I have been so happy!
I am meeting with a peace corps recruiter next month and I am so excited!
I hear a soft knock outside my classroom door today and there stands one of my reading intervention pupils. She wants to practice writing her name and soon we got to talking about Islam. She tells me about fasting for 30 days for Ramadan because “if you love God then you fast” from sunrise to sunset. She teaches me that Muslims cannot eat pig because he “has Satan in his body. If I eat him, I die.” She tells me she must pray five times a day and wear her hijab, or head wrap, all the time. She gazes at me, smiles, and says that she feels most beautiful when wearing her hijab. I have her put it on to show me and she was clearly correct. However, our school doesn’t let her (or any of the other Muslims who make up 39% of the school) wear them during the day because we were founded by the Church of Uganda. Sometimes the others at the schools say bad words to her for being a Muslim, even teachers she says. I tell her that whether she’s green or purple, big or small, Christian or Muslim, she can always be my friend. She giggles and asks if I will go to mosque with her one day; I happily comply but only if she lets me borrow her “smartest” hijab. We pinky promise and she continues writing her name over and over again with a joyful grin across her face.
Week 3 was our first week at our training sites! My site is called New Parade Training Center (henceforth known as NPT) and despite the name, is not new at all and we aren’t training to be in parades. We’re training to become amazing English teachers!
Here’s a picture of most of our NPT trainees – Christina, Carl, Zahra, Kati, Damien, Amanda, Travis, Kelly, Cameron, Leah, Minette, Colton, Julia, Ryan, Nicole, and I! Smack dab in the middle is our Site Manager Zhong Lan, who is amazing!
Weeks 4 and 5 of Pre-Service Training, we were knee deep in Model School! We had to pair up with another trainee so that we could co-teach the class, and my phenomenal partner was Nicole. Now, if you’re another NPT member reading this blog post, Imma let you finish, but Nicole Foster is the greatest Model School partner of ALL TIME!
Model School was not actually a class where we taught our Chinese students how to walk the runway, smize (smile with the eyes, of course), or participate in cat fights, but was actually our first shot at practicing teaching Chinese students.
We decided to make our class focus on Oral English with a concentration on comparing American and Chinese culture, so before our first class we had to come up with general themes for all of our classes and divvy up the days. Nicole and I taught the first and last classes together, then alternated days in between.
We had no idea going into these two weeks how good our students’ English level would be, we just knew that they would be around 16-17 years old. We had the bare minimum of resources–a small white board, four whiteboard markers, a small desk for our things, 20 desks we had to arrange in a tight space, and an air conditioner that pointed in the wrong direction so that it was always hot teaching in the front of the classroom. These conditions were very similar to my previous job at Manos Unidas, so I wasn’t devastated not to have a projector, computer, speakers, and so on, but it was quite a challenge squeezing 19 students into a room so small.
Nicole and I came up with about 40 names featured in Disney films hoping the students would pick them… The only student who picked a very Disney name was Cinderella.
We were very surprised after our first class how good our students were! They were quick to understand activities, they spoke English very well, and they were super entertaining! Teaching them was almost too easy.
We started with 19 students and despite our wishful hoping that we would lose some and be able to take some desks out of the room, we only lost one student over the course of two weeks. That one student didn’t drop out because she didn’t like us, but because she had to go back to her hometown for vacation. So, that means that Nicole and I are amazing teachers–or the students just really wanted the certificates saying they attended our class. I’m going to keep believing it’s the former.
We taught classes on American hobbies, animals, sports, diversity, holidays and traditions, movies, music, families, and food. My favorite activity probably happened during my class about American movies. I passed out movie titles that already exist (i.e. Dumb and Dumber, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the Princess Bride), and had the students make a skit acting out what they thought happened in the movies. It was so hilarious! I filmed most of them, so look for some videos in the coming days. :)
Apart from teaching, we also had to observe at least two other people teach their classes. I observed Kevin, Jimmy, and Nicole, of course, and they’re awesome! NPT is an incredible group!
Check out our shabby classroom and amazing students!
Despite the sometimes exhausting amount of lesson planning and prep work, the two weeks flew by and we had to say goodbye to our lovely students last Friday.
Their final assessment was to make a speech about one of the topics we learned about, and they did really great. After that, we played Jeopardy, passed out their certificates, and gave them candy. The students said a lot of sweet things about us and we posed for a million photos with them. At some point it was easiest just to stay in one spot in exactly the same pose and wait for a student to jump in for a photo.
Nicole and I with one of our students, Crystal!
Today was our first day back at NPT, and it felt strange not teaching our students. It felt good to teach again, and it made me even more excited for full time teaching in the fall, wherever that may be!
Now we’re back to lots of language, mock Language Proficiency Interviews, TEFL sessions, and SITE PLACEMENT INTERVIEWS! On Wednesday, I have my Site Placement Interview (which will last a mere ten minutes), and then we find out our permanent site next Thursday. The weekend after that, we’ll start to visit our sites. I’m excited to find out where my Chinese home will be for the next two years. :)
I want to tell you the truths of my life. Not because I want sympathy. Not because I want to complain. But because I’m still trying to figure out if all of the truths are real.
I live in a country that until the fall semester of my senior year of college, I didn’t know existed. It is a place where the answer to the question of whether I want to be there is answered daily, based on what happened on that individual day. It is a place where if I stop taking my doxycycline, I will get malaria. Here, I have met people who offer me part of their dinner every night and people who ask me for a present every time I see them. I have wanted to punch a wall more times in this place than I remember every having wanted to do anywhere else. I have at least 345 more days in this place. What I’ll be doing in 345 days, I couldn’t tell you.
I am a Peace Corps volunteer, which I guess makes me technically an employee of the US government. If I lived in America, I would live below the poverty line, but in my host country, I have never managed to not live within my means. These facts do not make me look forward to being back in the United States.
I teach English at a middle school. It is a job that I never would have listed on my top 20 desired jobs, but it gives structure to my life in this generally unstructured place. My students are stronger than I was at their age, and there are more times than I would want to admit that I am not the teacher I wanted to be. I never thought I’d be living The Dead Poet’s Society everyday, but this is a job that is a lot harder than I thought it would be.
The first three months of Peace Corps training was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, but now, I sometimes miss it. Everything was new, everything was different and really, the biggest issue dealt with on a daily basis was what my host family was going to feed me that night.
I have two parents and two siblings. And I have missed them more in the past 430 days than I ever thought I would. I have always imagined myself as a person who would travel the world and try out every country before choosing one, but I’ve started thinking more and more about home.
My closest family here is the 23 other volunteers who live within biking distance of my house. It is not hyperbole when I say I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.
I like silence. I like being along with my thoughts. This desire is hard for people here to understand. I think my best thoughts when I’m running, bicycling or driving I-70 between Kansas City and Columbia, Missouri. I have not driven a car in over a year. I ride my bicycle everyday.
I have a cat. He kills mice for me. I give him fish. He sometimes sleeps in the valley formed by the sheet between my feet. He meows whenever he walks into a room. He is the first four-legged pet that I have ever had.
I live a media-saturated life. I have seven registered Tumblrs and two registered sites on Wordpress. One of the most disappointing things that happened to me when I first got here was the realization that Twitter mobile is not available on Beninese cellphones. I read every issue of Esquire from cover to cover. I watch Good Will Hunting once a month because for some reason, this movie helps me make sense of what I’m doing.
I will be home in 26 days. This keeps me up at nights. But this vacation will be a lot less prodigal-son-esque than how it plays out in my head.
When I come back here it will feel like too soon. I will try to build some latrines. I will finish the school year. I will say goodbye to people I have come to love. And then all the truths will change again.
Marguerita Crosson was not only one of the Boston’s first African American
female teachers but also created the city’s first remedial reading program and
advocated for black history education. She and her family moved to Boston in
1906, and she attended the Hyde School, Girls’ High School, and Boston Teachers
Crosson taught remedial reading to children of Italian immigrants at the
Hancock School and then went on to create the city’s first remedial reading
program in 1935. Although her public school career ended when she retired in
1966, she continued being active in the community. In 1968, Crosson created a
training program for Peace Corp volunteers. She also spent much of her time
volunteering at homeless shelters and acting as a tutor.
The documents above show us two different glimpses of Crosson’s life. In the
first document, she’s listed among the graduates from Girls’ High School in
1918. The second document, shows us her teaching certification from the early
part of her long career.
Exercises of the Boston Girls’ High School, 1918, Graduation programs,
Collection 0400.004, Boston City Archives
Marguerita Crosson’s Teacher Qualification Record, 1946, Teacher Qualification
registers and index, Collection 0415.004, Boston City Archives
Blog post by Monica Haberny, City Archives Outreach Intern
I close and lock my door and walk the 17 steps out to the street. I turn left and walk the 43 steps to a small structure off the right side of the road.
Beneath the rickety roof of loosely woven palm fronds sits a woman, probably in her late twenties, frying fish in a large cast iron skillet over a charcoal fire. I do not know her name. In my head, I call her “Fish Lady” although I would never say this to her face.
“Good evening,” she says.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
“Fine. And the cat?”
“Two hundred,” I respond, handing her the Tupperware container that now permanently smells of fried fish.
She places four pieces in the container and exchanges it for the two hundred piece in my hand.
We have this same interaction every night I am in my village. She is always in the exact same spot. I usually respond the exact same thing to her questions. (Though I sometimes trying the entire interaction in local language instead of French.) The entire journey will always take me 14 minutes to complete.
But at least someone in my village notices when I’m not there.
“See you tomorrow,” I say, turning to walk the 43 steps back up the street.
In an age when religion, refugees, terrorism, and nationalism are such hot button political issues, living in a foreign culture, and truly becoming part of it, is the surest way to promote understanding between nations.
My I AM THAT GIRL club came over today to bake with me and plan our next few meetings… They ended up talking about ways to solve some problems in our city, like helping unemployed people get better access to job listings, and planning out our next two months of meetings! We’ll be discussing gender equality, music, opportunities for self development, and more! They are the reasons that I am a Peace Corps Volunteer and I am so so proud of them and all of the light that they put into the world! And one of them told me that my Ukrainian sounds very good :’) Even if it’s not true it made me feel like my studying is paying off!