With so many changes in life and work, Peace Corps Volunteers often need to remind themselves about their purpose, their responsibilities, their sense of self, and also their limitations. PCVs are not placed at site to save the world. They aren’t placed at site to radically alter the developmental direction of industries or undue decades of environmental degradation within the span of a couple of years. But PCVs due have assignments, and they are making very real and strong relationships with work partners, families, and community members.
I have this list on my wall. It says “you” repeatedly, so when I read it in the morning or after a frustrating day, it works like a conversation with myself. It’s changed a bit over my service thus far, and will continue to change. These seven pieces of advice could be useful in any situation, but I’ve found them particularly relevant to my service in the Philippines.
1. Embrace the Changes in Your Peace Corps Life
You will give up some control of your life. You will give up some privacy. You will get emotional at times. Your diet and exercise will change. You may have to shave your beard, cut your hair, cover your tattoos, whatever. Understand the community and the place and embrace these changes into your new life. This is a major challenge of Peace Corps service, meet it.
2. Community Organizing is Slow
You do not own the process or the outcome. You do not mandate the pace. Try to respect the pace and direction of the participants. Be exactly what the community and the participants need. Be a catalyst, offer advice, organize things. Community organizing is a service industry, provide what is needed.
3. Build Positive Relationships/Be Kind
Live here in the Philippines during your assignments and be present with your community. People internalize and notice your attitude and your character. Be positive, smile more. Do not watch your service go by from your porch and miss out on engaging your community.
4. Be Humble
You are a new community member and do not always know what is best. Another volunteer that you deeply respect offered this quotation. “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. and I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Don’t worry about what may be wrong with development, or culture, or what is best for the entire planet. Do your job to the best of your ability. Two years is not a long time for large development projects.
5. Examine Yourself
It is easy to fall into cycles of jaded thoughts, doubting your purpose and yourself. These are bad habits. Especially when you are feeling negative, look at your situation and how you are dealing with it. Grow. Adapt. Find new personal projects. You will and should be changing during this experience, monitor yourself and make the right kind of changes. “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” -John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
6. Do Not Give Up
Sometimes in ultras you reach a false summit or another climb and yell curses at nothing, damning the mountain spirits, the race organizers, and yourself for signing up. “I just want a bleepin’ flat section”. Never have you looked back on a race and felt sour toward a difficult climb. You cherish those moments after the fact, those parts ARE the race. You will arrive at problems, they are not unbreakable walls. Open yourself up to taking a personal moment, recollect and re-energize yourself, then get creative, patient, and get back to work. “Go all the way with it. Do not back off. For once go all the goddamn way with what matters.” Ernest Hemingway.
7. Miss Things AND Make a Home
You miss Missoula mountain runs, Kettlehouse Brewery (Coldsmoke) and blackbean burgers, cold mornings and hot Black Coffee Roasting Co. brews. You miss the larches turning yellow in the fall, the smell of sage, meadowlark calls, seeing the first mountain bluebirds in spring, live bluegrass shows, and all your friends and family. It is okay to miss things back home. Do not let it ruin your days. Miss those things, and then also learn to love and appreciate your new home. Work to make a community for yourself and explore your site in your free time.
Daily, these simple paragraphs strengthen my resolve when I question what I’m doing. They also remind me to be many different things, all at once. Kind, gentle, stubborn, open-minded, emotional, fierce, happy, patient, dream-filled. I’m mixing all of these things into my nalgene in the morning, and trying to stay very hydrated.