I never thought I'd be saying this but as you may or may not have heard, I've resigned early from Peace Corps Senegal. I will not go into my reasons for resigning on this blog but I'd be happy to speak about it with anyone through the blog's messaging service or through email.
My Peace Corps Experience
In the beginning of undergraduate studies I was confused. I found strong interest in helping people as a career, and wanted to help those who need help the most, but I couldn't explain why or even how. A year into college I had chosen International Criminal Justice as a major, and through that found a strong interest in human rights law, but soon figured out that enforcement of such law is practically non-existent. Through conversations in higher-level classes, I came to believe that governments and development workers are the closest thing to enforcers of human rights, and during my senior year at John Jay I began my application for the Peace Corps: to become a human rights cop, in a sense.
Why did I want to help people, though? Where were my motivations to help people coming from? Why did I feel I must help people of other countries when there are so many problems here at home? Through the application process, the Peace Corps asks you to answer these questions. I'd like to post my answer here (unedited):
My Motivation Statement
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to help people. It's possible that this desire came from my parents, or the stories and media I absorbed as a child, but I've stopped trying to figure out its origin. What I do know for certain is that I will not be satisfied until I invent an original and
effective method to assist people that are in dire need of support.
In attaining my bachelor's degree in International Criminal Justice, I've gained an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience. I've also learned a lot by listening to the radio and reading books about people creating banks in Mongolia, or building schools in Pakistan. I want to join the Peace Corps to use the knowledge I've gained, and the skills that I have, to help create upward mobility for people around the world.
I want to go to a country in the Middle East, or in Asia or Africa, and help a vulnerable community survive and thrive. I also want to learn from them, adopt their culture as my own and learn from their perspectives. I believe the Peace Corps represents the start of my path in the world of development.
The former Peace Corps volunteers I've talked to have all said that their time with the Corps was the best and most difficult time of their lives. Many warn me of the patience that I must have, some have told me that I may become discouraged or depressed. I know that I've only studied other people's cultures from afar, and I may not know what is in store for me in the world of development, but I will never be discouraged from assisting others in need of my help.
I plan on figuring out ways to make it easier for people to gain their fair share of wealth and happiness. This may be done by creating a social entrepreneurship in a developing nation, or it may be done by founding a nonprofit that assists in the education of girls and boys. But before I can figure out how to help, I feel that I must leave the United States and see for myself what needs to be done. The Peace Corps offers me a perfect opportunity to learn what kind of business or non-profit I can create to help people attain greater wealth and happiness.
My mother and father immigrated here from different countries so that my siblings and I could
have a better life. I want to give the same chance to people who have not been dealt the same hand as I have. I'm proud of my cultural heritage, and of my parents' and grandparents' labor to become Americans, and I believe that the Peace Corps will allow me to show people of a different nation what it is to be an American, and what we can accomplish by working together.
The name of this blog is taken from a song lyric, which in its entirety goes: "I tried walking backwards to get less confused". My theory right before I left was that through "walking backwards" in Senegal, I would better understand how to move forward. Extracting myself from all that is known, moving to a developing country and starting at zero culturally and linguistically: this became my definition of walking backwards. I've now finished walking backwards, and I want to say that I was right: I now understand how to move forward.
There are a lot of lessons I've taken away from my service in Senegal. I won't bore you with all of them, I'll simply speak about the most valuable one. In an earlier post -- the 20 questions from high-schoolers -- I spoke about fear. I'll reiterate what I said now.
During pre-service training I gained a fearlessness that I know will never leave me. The lesson was gained at the beginning of training, specifically day four: moving into your host family's compound. Being driven 40 minutes into desert, kicked out of a car and left without an understanding of your environment, its people, culture or language, you must decide: fight or flight. Do you run from your fear or try to embrace it? Twenty members of your new family are yelling at you and tugging at your hands, trying to get your attention. Do you become scared, or do you laugh? That first day was the beginning of a lifetime of laughing at fear.
Fear of the unknown can be overcome by gaining an understanding of the unknown. I've overcome fear of any difficulty because Peace Corps Senegal helped me better understand what difficulty is. The only thing left to do in a world without fear is to move forward, to progress. That's what I intend to do.
I'm keeping my plans simple: Go back to square one and try to truly understand my community's ecology and economy. Currently my community will be the area I grew up in: the north fork of long island. With all of my new experience, training and knowledge, I now am motivated to truly understand the area I live in, and more importantly to work together with the people around me to create the positive change that we all want to see.
Thank you for reading about my Peace Corps experience, and for supporting me through my time in Senegal. Up until now you've read about how my Peace Corps service affected a community Senegal. Stay tuned to this blog to see what I can do back here, at home.
I never understood what there was to love back home in this community, but now I'm beginning to see the meaning in every tree, the location of every house, every business, the nods and smiles of strangers. It's astounding how blind one can be -- even of what's right in front of them -- until one walks backwards.