A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Monday, March 7, 2011

Site Development and Volunteer Support

A few months ago I was approached by Peace Corps and offered a temporary position doing Site Development and Volunteer Support. At first I didn’t want the job because I wanted to spend my last few months at site. Then, when two of my best friends were transferred I didn’t really want to be around site too much. So I took the job and am a month and a half in and loving it. I still live in Gayaza and commute to Kampala on days I work in the office. I spend several days a week in the field and get to be home on weekends.

A large part of what I do is visit schools around the country who qualify to receive a volunteer. The Ugandan Ministry of Education gives Peace Corps a list of secondary schools and Primary Teacher Colleges that they’d like Americans to help. The first visit is one where I introduce what Peace Corps is and ask if they’d like to have a volunteer live and work with them for 2 years. I feel like Santa Clause on these visits. I am a complete surprise to them and get to bring a gift. What Ugandan school doesn’t want a white person?! Everyone I have talked to gets so excited and can’t stop thanking me for choosing their school. As if it were all my doing – ha!

Those were the first visits I made. Now, a month later, I am going to schools to follow up and check on the improvements the schools have made to housing for a volunteer and meet with the head teacher or counter part to reiterate the role of a volunteer in their school and what their responsibility will be to that volunteer.

I’ve found that secondary schools will bend over backwards to make it work. They are actively fixing up housing to meet Peace Corps standards. They’ve designated a desk in the staff room for the volunteer. They’ve prepared their teachers to welcome another teacher. They want a volunteer and they are going to do whatever Peace Corps asks so that they get that volunteer.

Primary Teacher College’s and Coordinating Centers, on the other hand, have not met the standards I carry and I often leave feeling demoralized and hopeless. They quickly ask for money to fix up the house that looks like it’ll fall in on a volunteer. Many don’t take any responsibility for their part in hosting a volunteer. I continue to question why we have this program when it never seems to work. Many volunteers who are placed at Coordinating Centers, including yours truly, find a system that looks great on paper but isn’t being carried out well in the community, if at all. It’s a government job which means payment may or may not come. Which means the Coordinating Center Tutor may or may not work. You work with other unmotivated teachers who are set in their ways and don’t want to learn different teaching techniques. Many volunteers start looking outside their coordinating centers for work, like I did. Because of my experience, I am able to look at these coordinating centers very critically and question them from different angles. I’m able to see their attitude, right from the beginning with getting appropriate housing and determine if they’ll make a good enough effort to place a volunteer there. Thankfully, my supervisor listens to my judgment and if I say the place isn’t going to work, she crosses it out and we go back to the drawing board. This job comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure I wasn’t expecting.

Along with site development, I also get to do volunteer support. This means I go and visit volunteers. I sit and have tea with them and hear how life in Uganda is going for them. It’s fun and I hope I bring them encouragement. It’s been really encouraging for me too, to see what other volunteers are doing around the country. Uganda is full of some pretty awesome Peace Corps Volunteers who are truly making positive impacts in their communities!

As I visit these sites I get excited with the enthusiasm I am met with. I see the beautiful locations in the foothills of great mountains, along the boarder with DR Congo, beside a rushing river, in the middle of a busy town with hardworking woman selling their goods, or amongst a thousand running, yelling and laughing brown faced children in school. I hear about the projects volunteers will be active in: teaching motion in a physics class with never used lab equipment, harnessing solar rays to power a computer lab, leading an HIV club and partnering with the local bee keepers to provide teachers with a natural sweetener for their morning tea. It makes me want to sign up for another 2 year tour of Peace Corps Uganda!

This is a good job for me to have at the end. It is something tangible that I am good at. It is giving me a sense of accomplishment and I feel I have come full circle. I have lived and loved Uganda for 2 years. On site development, I know what other volunteers need to survive and be happy here. Granted, we are all different and come with different attitudes and expectations. But I know what basics to look for that will aid in the contentment of a volunteer. I know how to talk and interact with Ugandans in authority. I carry on a conversation that is culturally sensitive and shows our shared humanity at the same time. When I visit volunteers, I know that sometimes another volunteer just needs someone to vent to. I know how to point at those small victories and remind volunteers why they are here.

As the completion of my 27 months of service approaches faster and faster, I am happy preparing the way for new volunteers in this country that will forever hold a part of my heart. May they be as happy, hardworking and motivated as some of the volunteers I visit and I myself tried to be. It’ll be worth it all!

1 comment:

  1. Look how much you have learned; there is a career there somewhere. There are more folks out there for you to have an impact with I am sure you will be used wherever you go.