Friday, February 4, 2011

Giving and Taking

It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. ~Mother Teresa

Peace Corps service has been described in many interesting ways: a roller coaster of emotions with its extreme highs and lows; a life-defining leadership experience; ‘the hardest job you’ll ever love'

While it has been a challenging experience with some terrible lows and extremely wonderful highs, I can’t but reflect on what I’ve given and what I’ve taken. As you’ve probably realized by now, I don’t mean give and take in terms of material things.

This past weekend a friend of mine, a former Peace Corps Volunteer made a comment like ‘you come to give help and you end up taking so much more.’

Indeed this is very true. I’ve come to give assistance in the form of support, ideas, inspiration to the local community. It is likely very difficult to be able to truly realize the impact of a PCV, especially during their service. Today’s minor achievements may end up as a foundation for the next premier of a country or perhaps a very successful business that will revolutionize the industry.

Or today’s minor achievements may simply remain today’s minor achievements.

How can we know the impact we will have on tomorrow today? We can but guess what the real impact will be. One thing is for sure though, the more effort and unconditional love we bring to our communities, the more the impact will be. Even if the community does not end up becoming the next greatest and most luxurious tourist spot in the country the community will be all the better for having had a volunteer who cared enough to spend time away from home in a foreign land and willingly gave of themselves the best they had to give to the community.

In return, the volunteer will take much more than they could have asked or hoped for. For in their two years of service the volunteer gains perspective and expands their knowledge of the world.

A cousin and dear friend of mine, March, wrote a note on Facebook recently a story of something she experienced during the December/Christmas time.
In the note she wrote that she was on a bus ride and saw a lady who was crying. When asked why, the lady said "I am hungry and had no money for food". March went on to explain that two well-dressed, attractive women got on the bus and sat near her. These two ladies, my cousin wrote, had large parcels of Christmas presents and were talking about going to Apple and looking for some gifts there. “Excuse me,” March said, as politely as she could. “The woman there is hungry. She is staying in a shelter. I just gave her a dollar. Do you suppose you could give her a little something?” They scowled and shook their heads. After a few heavy minutes, March said, “It's Christmas, you know.” “We give to charities,” one of the women answered as if that excuses them from helping others in need...
March went on in her note to say that a prosperous man in a brief case got on the bus and sat close by. “Excuse me,” March said, “the woman there is hungry.” She told him the story. He did nothing, and did not answer her. Soon he was talking to the man beside him, smiling, and they were jabbing each other knowingly with elbows and head nods. March tried again. A woman said, “OK,” and March felt hopeful. But the woman who had responded then ignored March and the hungry woman, got a Vogue out of her purse, and started to read...

The story in the note she wrote saddened me because it truly shows how many Americans feel towards those in need: with neglect (some with less than others; and of course not all Americans behave in such a manner).

A volunteer, then, has an opportunity to learn first hand through observation and interaction with a community of their culture: the rich cultural history, as well as the opportunities for growth. Instead of simply continuing to neglect the issues of communities that are less fortunate, we are thrown into the mix armed with our ideas and beliefs that we are going to change the world.

Arriving in country, and later into our sites, our awareness and development continue to grow. We begin to realize that changing the world might, just maybe, be too lofty of a goal.

The months pass, and so the volunteer becomes more well-versed with the local language… the volunteer adapts to the culture, learning the norms, taboos, meeting the important community members…before you know it half a year has passed and the volunteer starts wondering what has been accomplished and what will be accomplished in the next year and a half.

Even to this point, the volunteer has been undergoing tremendous changes, but likely has not yet realized the changes.

More and more time passes, and the volunteer has small victories here and there… and this month there is a big activity…that month training and vacation…

Before you know it, the two years are almost up. The volunteer reflects: what have I accomplished in the last two years?

Memories of projects, big and small, come to mind. More memories come to mind, of good times with friends/family on vacation and that trip to the game park.

Then the volunteer starts becoming reflective. It’s been two years and yet it seems like arriving in Kenya was “juzi juzi tu” (just the other day).

The volunteer realizes that the person who stepped off the airplane two years ago is long gone. ‘What happened to that person?’ you ask, well that person grew, changed, adapted. That person has grown into a new person that remains in Kenya for an additional year to be able to serve the community he has come to love and cherish.

The person that’s in the present has taken a lot more than anyone can realize. And now this third year is about giving back, as much as I am able as a ‘thank you’ to my community.

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