2. Don’t expect to be the change you want to see in the world.
I thought strong and hard for what to write as #2 thing I learned. Well, here’s a wisdom that applies to any community development. Most Peace Corps Volunteers join thinking “I am going to change the world!”. People have said these words to me and I always smile and turn away. This is not, never been, and never will be my intention as Peace Corps Volunteer. If you are trying to fulfill Ghandi’s wise words as a PCV, I think you should consider another path.
As a PCV you are not changing THE world. You are making a change you want to see in YOUR world. The impact you are making as a PCV should be made by the community to become sustainable and effective. That is, I believe Peace Corps Volunteers should focus on inspiring their community members to create change they want to see in their world.
Sometimes, the need of the community aligns with the actual need; but the truth is that what we want as outsiders is seldom reflected on the perceived needs of the community… and that’s where the energy and resource gets wasted. This burns out so many volunteers by month 6. So… don’t do that.
I will get a bit technical. As PCVs, we are given few tools to assess the needs of our communities. I strongly encourage current and future PCVs to put more emphasis on Needs Assessment for a more fulfilling and successful service. I took first 3 months at my site to develop this fishbone chart with the need of the community. It took a while but I decided (from personal observations and informal interviews) that Lezha lacked proper Youth Engagement.
Unlike traditional fishbone, I used this to map out what aspect of my community I can help, what already exists, where are the resources, who are the key players, and how I can connect all the dots. It’s been a challenging success so far!
Success #1: My sitemate and I worked with an isolated community that wanted to bring a secondary education to their community. They needed infrastructure, human resources, and dedication. We held a community meeting, then BOOM! SUCCESS! We had our first high school class in this community this year.
Success #2: From previous community meeting, the community was able to organize themselves when the Prime Minister was visiting Lezhë. They petitioned and requested a new road, to which he responded positively. (Unfortunately, current developments do not look good. Hopefully residents do not lose hope yet!)
Success #3: Multifunctional community center opened! This center is a collaboration between multiple organizations. I was invited to join during the opening event, and it is still functioning! I went this week to teach my 10th grade class on domestic violence. What an asset to the community!
Success #4: My counterpart and I held a community development training at a high school. We taught service learning and how students can become assets to their community. I taught about project development, needs assessment, and sustainability. Currently, students are working against bullying in schools! They are going around different schools in the city and presenting how to combat bullying.
Success #5: Albanian Model United Nations. What a journey it was to work on AMUN. I had a pleasure of working with 6 dedicated high school students in representing Azerbaijan. It was truly a learning experience for all of us!
Success #6: Teacher trainings via English Lessons. Back in January, the Regional Director of Education asked me to teach English to teachers. Well, I wasn’t an English teacher, I said, but what the heck. Since then, I have weekly English lessons with teachers. We discuss new teaching methods, health and gender issues in classrooms all in English. Well, can you say “killing two birds with one stone”?
Things in progress: I still have few projects I am working on. I won’t call them successes yet, but it is what my community wants and I am doing it to benefit the goal of my service: youth engagement in my community.
My advice to current and future PCVs: listen to your community. Listen to the people. Don’t jump into the cold water thinking you know exactly what to do. You don’t know your community until 3-6 months at site. Take time, drink coffee, meet people, make relationships. Begin a project that the community want, not what you want. Or at least, not yet. Don’t try to change the world, you don’t know their world. Be humble and inspire the community to change their own world.