Building Partnerships: Ministry of Public Education and Peace Corps Costa Rica
A vital part of the success of Peace Corps Volunteers comes from the relationships they foster with counterparts. Merlyn, Peace Corps Costa Rica counterpart, shares her perspective on Peace Corps' impact on her professional life and the region she calls home.
Hello! My name is Merlyn. I am from Costa Rica and grew up in small town near the border of Panama. I have worked for the Ministry of Public Education (MEP) since 2003. I taught high school English for more than 10 years, and after teaching English, I got an administrative role as one of 27 English Regional Advisors in Costa Rica. I still live in a southern region in Costa Rica and in my role, I support English teachers and their students.
A strong part of my administrative role is to create and develop key partnerships. Peace Corps Costa Rica (PCCR) is one of the best partners I have collaborated with over the years. My story with PCCR began in 2012. Back then, I was teaching at a local high school. My school principal and I heard about the great work Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) do in communities, so we immediately requested a Volunteer to serve at our institution. I was fortunate enough to receive Elise! Elise was one of the most humble and sweetest people I´ve ever met. Everybody adored her- her host family, students, parents, teachers, school staff and community members. She was loved because of her unconditional friendship and willingness to help the youth of our community. Elise taught English and shared interesting aspects of her U.S. American culture. Since I stepped into my new administrative position in 2013, I’ve carried Elise’s lessons and friendship with me to this very day.
As Regional Advisor, I discovered that there were more than 10 PCVs in my region. These PCVs belonged to the different PCCR project sectors- English Education, Youth Development, and Community Economic Development. It was great to see our small towns benefiting from the initiatives that Volunteers were able to provide.
In my first year as the Regional Advisor, I can remember reflecting on the tremendous amount of support we needed. We were expected to propose creative educational projects, get students speaking English, empower teachers to get on board with new English initiatives, teach a new curriculum and create innovative teaching materials. I am proud to say that PCVs have helped us every step of the way to fulfill these priorities! I have now worked alongside more than 30 PCVs and every single of them has touched the heart of the communities where they served.
The greatest contribution of PCCR to our schools and communities is that children, teenagers, and English teachers have developed a deeper understanding of the United States' culture. PCCR has actively participated in every single project MEP has developed to reach our ambitious goal of becoming a bilingual country by 2022.
There are three noteworthy projects that PCVs, English teachers, and I have created together.
1) In 2016, my region was selected to host the second National English Festival--a huge task. I’m grateful I had the support of two PCVs with the organization of the big event- Jaclyn and Darryl.
2) In 2016/17, the entire country was implementing a new English curriculum. Intensive training sessions and materials preparation were taking place all over the entire country. The Volunteers played an important training role as we traveled across the entire region visiting and engaging with English teachers.
3) In March of this year, a new group of Volunteers and three local teachers sat down to write scripts for 48 dialogues for third and ninth grade students to use. They recorded them at a local radio station and uploaded them onto the MEP web site. Check them out! https://www.mep.go.cr/educatico. The purpose of this project was to create more authentic Costa Rican resources for teachers to use.
Without a doubt, working with PCVs has also given me a clearer vision of U.S culture, which greatly differs from what I was exposed to through TV and movies. Now, I know that punctuality, organization, and making plans are essential values of the American culture. Volunteers have taught me the value of feedback. In Costa Rican culture, receiving feedback as well as giving it can be a challenge. I have learned the value of ongoing professional growth and improving every task I do. If anyone knows the importance of team work and how priceless it is, its PCVs. Another important lesson learned is that PCVs use their time wisely because time is precious. Volunteers put in all their effort to accomplish the goals they set for every project. Undoubtedly, I am a different professional and person since I started working with Peace Corps. I personally believe that working with a PCV is one of the most valuable gifts Costa Rica can receive. Volunteers give their time, experience and knowledge to make positive changes in the communities where they serve. I can now say that PCVs are incredible human beings, brave and precious.
I am thankful for getting to know, work, and spend time with PCVs. I want to thank them for their time and commitment to my country's development.
As you can see, PCV influence in Costa Rica has been impactful and plentiful. I hope this strong influence continues to provide quality results in the coming years.