Ask a Volunteer
Q: What's it like to be a Volunteer returning to a newly re-opened Peace Corps post?
A: One of my neighbors, Prince, loves to tell me about a man named Skip from Arizona who was a volunteer in my village in the late 60s. Prince tells me about how Skip was not only his teacher but also his mentor. Prince even learned how to swim from Skip. This is a constant reminder that I am part of the Peace Corps Sierra Leone tradition and helps motivate me to also be part of reestablishing that great tradition of becoming members of the community with a permanent impact.
Martin Dertz, Secondary Education: Math Peace Corps Volunteer, Sierra Leone
A: Because Peace Corps was here only a short time, and it was almost five decades ago, it feels like we are opening a new post. It seems like no one knows what or who Peace Corps is. On one hand, it feels really great that we get to set a precedent and are not being compared to past Peace Corps Volunteers who have already accomplished great things, but on the other hand, our role is still somewhat ambiguous. A lot of our experiences here have been trial and error in hopes that things will be more improved for the next group of volunteers.
Maggie Lautzenheiser, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Indonesia
A: Being a volunteer in Liberia is like starting with a blank slate. I'm always explaining to my community what Peace Corps is, what I'm here to do (and not to do), how I want to help them. At the same time, there's a legacy in Liberia of the volunteers that were in country prior to 1990. I always hear about how "my Peace Corps teacher taught me this" or "my Peace Corps teacher got me into university." It's nice to know how much Peace Corps means to Liberians, but there are also expectations to live up to. Talk about pressure!
Jessica Befort, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Liberia
A: Returning to Sierra Leone has been a wave of pomp and circumstance, trial and error, and endless stories of the legacy our predecessors have left behind...which is mostly in our favor. Although, the looked-down upon, signature dirty jeans worn by earlier Peace Corps Volunteers still haunt us today, we are told we dress much better — so that's a start. There have been many bush taxi rides where I find myself sitting next to an elderly Sierra Leonean, who is quiet at first, but then starts asking me: Where do you come from? Who are your father and mother? What are you doing here? Their smile opens up when I tell them I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer coming back to their beautiful country. It's like we have only just discovered we are long lost friends.
By going where the people go, and doing what the people do, we have made some invaluable friendships and had some unforgettable experiences here in Sierra Leone. I have a feeling the love we have for Sierra Leone will only get stronger; the generosity and warm-heartedness of the people here is overwhelming...in a good way most of the time. The affects of the civil chaos come in echoes. You would never know how much suffering lays beneath the smiles and laughter the citizens all seem to carry. But it is there, and it is heart-wrenching. They work through it, though. They are so strong here and life will always go on. I am just so happy for this opportunity to befriend these beautiful people.
The expectations of us as pioneers are definitely set high. As we work through the many successes and failures as volunteers thrown into a foreign situation, we learn much about how people are. It truly is what you make of it. These next two years of service will either be very difficult and exhausting, or something to be taken as a challenge, something exhilarating and rewarding for everybody involved. As we say in Krio: Wi na Peace Corps!
Danielle Gannon, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Sierra Leone
A: As far as my community is concerned, this is the first time they have had a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) here, so I have the luxury of being the first PCV in my community, even if this is technically a re-opened Peace Corps post.
Scott Lea, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Indonesia
A: In 2009, I served as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Liberia. Liberia had been one of the first African countries to receive Peace Corps volunteers after its inception in 1961 and there were many projects throughout Liberia until the escalating violence caused Peace Corps to leave Liberia in 1990. As one of the first Volunteers to return to Liberia, I found that I had inherited a very positive legacy from my Peace Corps brothers and sisters. I would run across someone who, when they learned I was with the Peace Corps, would grab my arm and with a wide smile tell me of a Peace Corps Volunteer that had been one of their teachers when they were young. These folks were always at least 30 years old and expressed in a raw eloquence that could bring tears to my eyes how much they love Peace Corps. My membership in the Peace Corps gave me great status in Liberia, and I have much admiration for those earlier Volunteers who gave me this gift.
In 2010, I was selected to be a part of the first Peace Corps Volunteer group to return to Colombia in nearly 30 years. I have been very warmly received, though almost no one I speak with has ever heard of Peace Corps and I have had to develop a little presentation to explain why I am here. Why would anyone with an education be willing to work for free? The answer to that question, though clear to me, is not easy to explain. As I listen to myself struggle to express these high-minded ideals, it does sound a little pretentious but as relationships get established and friendships develop, we all find other things to focus on. Some things don't need words to express.
Edward Solem, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Colombia
A: Being assigned to a newly re-opened post brings the usual expectations, but with a little more pressure. There is pressure to start the program well and lay the foundation for a successful program in the future. My community does not remember working with the Peace Corps previously, and most people have never before heard of the Peace Corps. For many people I might be the first American they have met. So besides teaching English, I am making a first impression representing many people back home.
Lauren Ebersole, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Indonesia
A: The difference in working in a new country, lies in the lack of expectations from our communities. This is both a boon and a challenge: on one hand, no one is saying, “you're not doing what so-and-so did two years ago,” but trying to convince people that I'm more than a foreign English teacher – that I want to be involved with the community and integrate myself beyond recitations of the past continuous tense, can be difficult.
Diana Klein, English Education Peace Corps Volunteer, Indonesia