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Lending a Helping Hand

By AMANDA OWENS

Peace Corps Response Antigua 2010
Peace Corps Mauritania 2006-2008

The difference between my first assignment in Peace Corps and my second one with Peace Corps Response is like night and day. Living and working in Mauritania, Africa, is vastly different from working in the Caribbean. For one thing, the needs and demands of the community are not the same. Similarly, I felt that the challenges I faced in Mauritania made my work in Antigua seem like a walk in the park.

Don't get me wrong, there were challenges in Antigua, but they were not as hard to overcome. In my first assignment, I worked as a teacher in a community that hosted Peace Corps Volunteers for over 10 years; as a result, the community knew and recognized Volunteers. In my first assignment, I also had three months of training and ample time at the site to learn about the culture, the languages, and my role as a teacher and gender and development Volunteer. As a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, you literally hit the ground running. The first time around, I had extensive training for my work in Peace Corps Mauritania; the second time around, I had six months to complete my assignment. With Peace Corps Response, I was part of a group of Volunteers serving in Antigua and Barbuda and we had five days of orientation in St. Lucia and the next week we were sent to work.

With Peace Corps Response, I served as a children’s librarian at the Antigua Public Library. This project was developed in preparation for the library's re-location to a much bigger and more central location in the city. My role was to help revamp the department and train new staff to run the department. Given the short time I had to implement, I felt really blessed to be placed in an institution that had a strong sense of the direction it needed to go to succeed.

The department already had a few programs in the works, such as, Audio/visual Thursdays, Reading is Essential Program, and Friends of the Antigua Public Library Summer Reading Program. I reviewed the department’s programs, spoke with the kids to see what they wanted, and worked with staff to make it happen in the library. An important aspect of this project was moving from a strictly children’s department to a youth services department that served patrons from 5 to 15 years, and hosted activities in which all age groups could participate. We worked with what we had, and added what we could. I wanted to make the library a place not just for homework and research, but one where we could have fun with planned activities for parents and kids. In order to do this, we added monthly themes to the department, celebrated Earth Day, Best Friends Day, and other kid specific holidays. We added art and craft activities for Friday afternoons (Craft Friday). To get more involvement from the kids, we also added computer courses for the kids, and Summer Story Time.

Not only did I transition the Children's Department to the Youth Services Department, I trained two new members of the staff in the department. First and foremost, the staff was taught library basics. We worked with the adult library team on using the circulation software and on recording statistics to evaluate and monitor computer usage, new members for the month, books checked-out, and patrons late on returning books to the library. The staff and I worked together to create several new initiatives that were not previously part of the department.

Through our efforts, the department saw a huge increase in involvement from kids and parents. More and more parents became actively engaged in what their children were doing in the library and participated in the activities. Over 160 children signed-up for the summer reading program, a huge swell from the 60 kids the year before. Even as I prepared to leave, I worked with staff to create a calendar of events for the coming months.

Working with Peace Corps twice has given me the chance to grow professionally, to live in another part of the world and to realize once again how little our differences are and how many great opportunities exist to help each other. In the field, we tend to think that we are more like the “lone rangers,” but I have come to understand that without help from each other we all fail. So whether in a devastating under-developed country like Mauritania, or in a beautiful tourist spot like Antigua and Barbuda, development will only succeed with help from the community.

Last updated Jan 30 2014

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