The Roller Coaster Ride That is the Peace Corps

During our 2-month pre-service training we were told, on more than one occasion, that this would be a roller coaster ride and indeed it has been. Nary a day goes by when I ask myself, “What is my purpose here?”

I question many, many things related to the Peace Corps, its presence in Jamaica, the Youth as Promise II program, and my role at the school I’m at.

I’ve been here almost 11 months now. Two months for training and the last 9 months I have been at site. I still don’t feel grounded in my work. I know, the Peace Corps also says that it often takes a year or more for volunteers to begin to see the fruits of their labor. I have a feeling mine will be “or more.” One of my challenges with feeling grounded is that four months into my service I changed work placements. Why did I do this? Because I was not doing anything (in my opinion) of value. I was working at a Youth Information Center (YIC) and my days were mainly filled with logging computer users into/out of the center. I made copies for users and printed documents. In essence, I was working at Kinkos.

My intent of this post is not to bash the Peace Corps rather to express my frustrations in being a Peace Corps Volunteer almost twelve months into service.

In all fairness, the things I was told I’d be doing at the YIC were appealing, they just didn’t happen. Going out into the rural communities and bringing services to the youth was one. Working with unattached youth, another. I decided, four months in to my service, to change sites. I did this because I felt, “Time, she was a wastin’.”

Peace Corps allows you to change sites if you have reasons that they believe substantiate a change. I was extremely frustrated and made my case for a site change. I looked back at what I originally thought and hoped I’d be doing in the Peace Corps and that was working with children – either one-on-one or in small groups. So, I set out to find a setting where I thought this could happen. I chose to work at a school that was in my neighborhood. With my social work background and experience, I thought that working in the Guidance Department would be a good fit so I called the principal, explained who I was, and she told me to come in.

This placement is challenging in that given I literally walked in off the street, they weren’t sure what to do with me. I’ve been there four months now and have been running Anger Management sessions for kids who were selected by their teachers because they have anger issues. The classes were originally scheduled for 30 minutes and originally I had about six classes. Finding a place to have the sessions was a challenge because all of the classrooms were in use and for weeks on end the library was being used for dance rehearsals.

Most of my classes have fallen by the wayside but there are two that remain where the children are steadfast. These classes will end in a few weeks and school itself will end on July 5th.

So as I begin to wind down this school year and think about the next, I ask myself, yet again, “What is my purpose here?” I’m hopeful that next school year will be different. I will know the teachers and they will know me. I will find out what specific needs they have that I could fill. And hopefully, I will have longer term interactions with the kids where I can develop relationships with them, and make a difference.

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