This last week, Group 15 volunteers started saying their farewells. Many of them are headed back to the states, a few are continuing their world travels and some are moving to other countries in Europe. Within the first few days of arriving in Albania, I learned that other volunteers would be my greatest resource. Not only can they offer the most empathetic advice, many of them turned into some of my closest friends. The Peace Corps puts you into a unique situation. Most of us are living in a parallel universe, vastly different from anything else we have known. Because of this, we find ourselves leaning on the individuals that are going through the same experience.
To say that my service has been impacted and inspired by a few of these volunteers would be an understatement. Some words of wisdom by one of these individuals hit home with me a few days ago.
I entered the Peace Corps to make a difference. All of us did. Yet, there are often times when I felt useless to those around me. There were times I asked myself, “What am I even doing here? I’m producing no results”. It’s easy to find flaws in the Peace Corps system when you think of it in terms of long term sustainable development, when you measure the success of Peace Corps in terms of your own personal successes. That just isn’t what happens.
I took that quote straight from wikipedia [quoting an article in the Multinational Monitor].We have three goals in the Peace Corps:1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.More than anything else one does in Peace Corps, you fulfill goals 2 and 3. So in other words, It’s set up so that you serve people. You are in the business of people. You serve the immediate needs of the individuals around you. It becomes easy to think, “Peace Corps doesn’t make a difference” if you think of your service in any other terms. That off-target sentiment is also one which, unfortunately, a lot of volunteer friends and family joke about as they listen to our struggles and failures. They hear so much of our frustrations, it clouds their view of what we really do here.
I’m here to tell those pesky voices in our heads, or annoying families and friends, that Peace Corps DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE and volunteers DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
I see that more and more as I prepare to leave what has been my home for the past two years.
When I moved to Fier, I left behind an amazing group of young girls who played on the Koplik futbol team. It nearly broke my heart I felt so guilty. I felt like I was abandoning them. And, really, though I didn’t choose it, I was.
Today, a fellow Group 15 volunteer in Shkoder finalized a girl’s soccer team with an amazing athletic school there. The social inclusion aspect of the project is allowing some of my Koplik girls to play on the team. Koplik is just 30 minutes away, but without their transportation being covered or chaperons provided, they couldn’t get to practice the required 3 times a week. They’ll now be playing with a WHOLE TEAM of other dedicated young girls (something that was hard to come by when it was just Koplik).
As I facebook chatted one of the 13 year old girls today, who is by far the most amazing human I have ever met, she told me,
“Geeeeenaaa! ^________^ Finally! We’ll start on the 1st of April, 3 times a week.They said that we may be able to enter the championship next year… Goshh my dreams are coming true!”
I can’t remember a time when I have felt happier than I do right now. This girl. She deserves the world. And her world is soccer. She loves soccer. And now she has soccer, where she didn’t before. THAT’S A DIFFERENCE. I remember when I first met her and she told me the story of how she had been waiting for us to come so she could play soccer. She was about to join the boy’s team (a big deal for this conservative, traditional town) when my site mates showed up in Koplik and started a team. She said they saved her. She showed up to every single practice, every game, every fundraiser. She put her whole heart into it.
Peace Corps is making a difference in her life, a HUGE DIFFERENCE.
Just like Peace Corps made a difference in my friend Diti’s life, an honorary Peace Corps volunteer, by seeing him accepted and in attendance at grad school in Rhode Island.
Just like Peace Corps made a difference to the Albanian spouses of volunteers.
Just like Peace Corps made a world of difference in my own life.
Peace Corps is hard. Often you fail. You are not going to change the world as a volunteer, but if you keep at it and you pour your heart into it, you can make A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE to someone. And that’s the damn truth.”
-Xhina; Group 15
My past year would not have been what it was without the influence of these other volunteers. To many of them I thank you for the words of advice and inspiration. And to a special few, I feel lucky to have gotten to know you as well as I did. Let this not be goodbye but simply; see you later.