Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and more
The true spirit of the holiday season reflects a responsibility to helping those in need, and extending good fortune to others living with less and needing more. Each day, Peace Corps volunteers demonstrate their spirit and compassion to those around the world. Yet volunteers are often so immersed in their projects and service that they do not pause to reflect upon their accomplishments and the impacts they make on their communities.
The holidays are one of the few times that volunteers have a real opportunity to truly comprehend just how many people's lives they have touched. This holiday season volunteers from Botswana to Thailand immersed themselves in the culture and festivities that their new friends and families now celebrate and, in the process, they witnessed the true impact that their service has on those around them.
Christopher Talley began his Christmas like none before, yet by the end of the day his experience certainly felt as close to home as one can feel on a different continent and in a world so different than the States.
"Two days before Christmas, my host father asked my host brother and I to go to the cattle post to slaughter a head of cattle and to help transport some cattle from his land plot to the cattle post. Papa Sebina, as I call him, is a chief or headman in the village of Serowe, a title he inherited from his father. It is a tradition to slaughter a head of cattle on Christmas morning to eat with the family.
On Christmas morning, I went to my host family's house. When I arrived, I saw the teenagers and children in the compound and my host sisters in the kitchen cooking up a delicious meal for us all. One of my host brothers showed me his Christmas gifts and we sat around exchanging stories about everyday events. The music was playing from a car stereo and before dinner all of the family got together to do a traditional dance. It was Christmas and time to celebrate good tidings and cheer. They were all laughing and smiling, while they danced. It was a joyous occasion. I almost forgot my family in the U.S. because I was caught up in the festivities. Finally, everyone arrived. The cousins and friends of the family came by to celebrate the occasion.
When dinner was finished, they asked me to pray over the preparations. Everyone gathered around the table as we all bowed our heads. It was reminiscent of how my African-American family treated the occasion. After eating until I almost burst, I laid down and took a nap. I thought that day of all the positive experiences that I've had in Botswana, and what lies ahead in my final year of service."
Several health education volunteers in Mali celebrated Christmas together in Boboland. While it wasn't home, that didn't stop the volunteers from having a Christmas to remember.
Boboland is a tiny island of Christianity in the predominantly Muslim country of Mali. The Bobos are a festive people, with a delightfully tonal language, who often host celebrations that include dancing until the break of day.
Daybreak in the village of Mandiakuy found some 14 volunteers, some new and some old, rising slowly but surely to greet Christmas day. We spent Christmas Eve decorating the gwa (a thatch oasis from the sun) with tinsel and ornaments (alas, we had no boughs of holly), and preparing a tidy feast, including oodles of pasta, fresh salad, grilled chicken, and chips and salsa...all homemade.
We followed our gourmet meal with a charming Bobo bowling tournament. To play Bobo Bowling, all one needs is a dried gourd filled with cement, 10 Coke bottles mummified in duct-tape and magazines, and a cadre of inspired (if nutty) Peace Corps Volunteers.
Christmas morning, several volunteers struck out for the solitary cathedral rising unexpectedly out of the millet flat fields. Normally, Bobos eat millet as often as three times a day, but on this special day, we ate roast pig, rice, and a tasty assortment of vegetables.
After the service, we returned to our games, Neil Diamond Christmas music, and naptime. After our little siesta, we marshaled our forces for dinner, live African music, and an all-night dance party.
Bill Bull, the country director in Madagascar, recounts the experience he and the volunteers of that country had with those who have no home for the holidays.
Country Director Bill Bull and volunteers helped bring Christmas to orphans in Madagascar.
Here, in Madagascar, we did our second season of a fun and interesting Christmas activity. There is an orphanage here, in Tana, that does a variety of interesting projects with the kids in which Peace Corps is involved.
Each Christmas we have the "Akany Avoko Christmas Project." Organized by my wife and I, the names of all the children with no home are put on a list. Posters of Christmas trees with the names of the children on paper ornaments are posted at the U.S. Embassy, the Peace Corps, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the School. On the back of the named ornaments is a wish list of two presents that the children would like to receive. Volunteers, staff and mission employees "adopt" a child for the event and buy them presents, usually a new pair of shoes, a book bag for school and the like.
On Christmas day, Peace Corps employees and 15 mission employees went out to the orphanage to share Christmas with them. Cookies were brought to decorate together, songs were sung, games were played, and presents were distributed to all the children.
This event was very fun, and it was great to have volunteers continue to show their generosity of spirit in adopting children and providing them with gifts out of their meager living allowances. In total, 87 children received Christmas presents, a donation was given for games and facility improvements, and everyone involved was touched in a special and meaningful way!
Hoping that everything turns out perfectly can be stressful, especially when the children you really care about are counting on you. But as Miranda Lopez learned, when everything comes together, it is worth all the effort and stress.
In the Mohale's Hoek District of Lesotho (a small country in Southern Africa), situated in a remote village, is Mants'ase Children's Home. Currently, 24 children reside at the home, which is run by six staff members and myself. Each year we hold a Christmas party for our children and invite those who make it possible for us to continue providing a happy and safe environment for the orphaned children of Lesotho.
The day started early, not because there was a lot of preparation, but because the children were so eager for the party to start. They kept asking me, "Why does it start so late?" The party was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., but since it's summer here, they consistently are up by 5:30 a.m. After a final cleaning up of the grounds and buildings, there was nothing left to do but wait.
The first couple of guests started arriving around noon, but I was worried about the food. It was the first year that the party was being catered by an outside source, the Lesotho Sun, which had volunteered to completely cater the event. Just before 1:00 p.m., the caterers arrived and started unloading TONS of food! A short time later, a van full of Lesotho Sun employees arrived and the setup began in earnest. Apparently, when Lesotho Sun management asked who wanted to volunteer to do the event, so many employees volunteered that they had to set a limit.
Soon the visitors (about 70 in total) started flooding in as well . . . attendees were: members of the Board for Mants'ase Children's Home, the District Secretary of Mohale's Hoek, representatives from Industrial, Mohale's Hoek Development Forum, Nedbank, CGM Industrial, Mount Maluti Hotel, CARE, Parliament, and Peace Corps Lesotho. The party was also attended by about 10 local volunteers and 11 new trainees who happened to be on their site visits.
A highlight for the children was when Metro Cash & Carry donated a pile of toys. We had all the children cover their eyes while the toys were stacked in front of them. Their eyes went wide when we told them to open them and the rush ensued.
The culmination of the party was the feast provided by the Lesotho Sun. There was more than enough food for everyone despite the turnout being more than expected. After eating, the children entertained everyone with traditional songs in Sesotho.
Overall, it was a very successful party and the children truly enjoyed it. It was a greatly anticipated day and the result was well worth the wait!
It took some time for Susan Green to transform into Santa Claus, only to have to brave the heat in layer upon layer of clothes. But by day's end, Susan saw that the spirit of Christmas is worth the effort.
As Susan Green learned, Santa would be much more fit if he spent nine hours a day in the 90 degree Thailand heat.
This Christmas in Dankhuntod was truly the most magical Christmas of my life! The school is compiling a video of the day, and it should be an Oscar winning performance by me as Santa! After nine hours in costume - including white poster paint on my eye brows, hair gel piled on top of my head, hair stuffed into some white panty hose, the pillow of towels stuffed in my stomach, and the farmer's rubber boots in the 90 degree weather - I was ready for a shower and some Ibuprofen.
The children went all out in their Christmas celebration, which (of course) included karaoke.
I was asked to be Santa that night for another four hours, but I had to decline even though it was for my e-school class and their parents. Our class had a rooftop Christmas celebration with many decorations and lights, karaoke (of course), a present exchange, games, and a play the kids organized with the teachers. Also, we had a lot of Thai food and a wonderful parent brought two pizzas from Nakhon Ratchasima's Pizza Company. The kids gave me a bouquet of roses, a container of cookies, cards, and a necklace with matching bracelet and earrings. What else could you want for a wonderful, heartfelt Christmas? Everyone made me feel so comfortable and appreciated. The teachers wrote a poem and speech in English about making me feel like they were my family-because I missed mine. I almost cried!
Pamela Martin, a Programming and Training Officer in Armenia, shares the traditions that have developed there over the years. Even though volunteers give all year, the Armenian volunteers have found that coming together with all their resources and talents can create an extraordinary event.
We have a wonderful volunteer tradition here in Armenia, where the volunteers celebrate Western Christmas (the Armenian Christmas is January 6; December 25 is an ordinary working day) with Armenian children, either at an orphanage or village school.
On December 25, 2003, a group of 25 Peace Corps volunteers went to visit a small village school in Vaghnadzor. There are 56 children, in first to eighth grade at the school. The Peace Corps volunteers brought presents for all 56 children. Lunch was also provided for the students, teachers, volunteers, and staff. This consisted of hotdogs, corn, fruit, cookies, and soda. One volunteer dressed up as Santa Claus and went to each classroom to distribute the presents. The students of the school also performed a short skit for the Volunteers.
Primary funding for the project was through a Casino Night, held during the All Volunteer Conference. Other donations were solicited from individual Peace Corps volunteer contributions, Armenian Volunteer Corps individual contributions, Peace Corps staff contributions, as well as various presents donated from individuals in the United States.
Joseph Curtin, Country Director in Kyrgyzstan, provides a glimpse into his life over the holidays, trying to make the holidays special for the volunteers and attending to invites from communities that want to recognize the Peace Corps.
These volunteers in the Kyrgyz Republic celebrated far from home, but new friends -- and Oreos - made it one to remember.
Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan staff including Marat Usmanov, Yelena Melyakova and myself, left Bishkek and drove over the snow covered passes of the Ala-Too Mountains to spend Christmas with the volunteers in remote villages and towns in the south. We had seven Christmases in three days. Volunteers made all the arrangements for Christmas dinners and staff brought Oreo cream sandwich cookies and gummy bear candy.
Community meetings were held in each province with the mayors and heads of the education department, militia and hospitals. All the volunteers were introduced.
Also, I want to recognize that this is the first Christmas for our newest volunteers, and they are getting used to the cold and appreciating the warmth of the Kyrgyz people.
Last updated Jan 22 2013