Serving in the Midst of Nationwide Strike
When classes get suspended, English Education Volunteer, Megan, gets creative with her unexpected free time.
Peace Corps Volunteers are known for their flexibility. Being in the Peace Corps, you are always ready for the unexpected. We are often required to make use of the limited resources available to find creative solutions. While this can be difficult, it is also a great opportunity for personal growth. One of the biggest challenges of my Peace Corps experience occurred when Costa Rican teachers went on a three month long nationwide strike. As an English Education Volunteer whose primary project involved working 30 hours a week in a public elementary school, I was left with a lot of free time. While it was a challenge to adjust to this unexpected roadblock, the strike became an opportunity to find meaning in other projects and strengthen relationships within my community.
The first week of the strike was a struggle. Having lost structure, boredom and isolation quickly became a daily reality. I was lucky enough to have a public library in my community where I held an English club once a week, so I decided to speak with the local librarian, Shayron. We agreed to collaborate in order to offer activities for the kids while they were out of the classroom. I continued holding my English club once a week, and we decided to implement other clubs and activities such as a STEAM (science, technology, economics, and math) club and yoga classes. As a member of the Volunteer Gender Equity Committee, Shayron allowed me to facilitate a workshop for International Day of the Girl which was sponsored by the municipality. I also took advantage of opportunities to provide English tutoring to high school students. When we didn’t have an activity scheduled, I was able to use the library’s internet to work on a grant for an upcoming project. The library became my second home, and allowed me to find purpose outside of my primary project.
Offering activities was a great way to keep kids engaged while they were out of the classroom, as well as an opportunity for me to integrate. Through my daily visits to the library, I met more people in my community and strengthened my relationships with the friends I’d already made. When we weren't holding an activity, I was having "cafecito" (coffee socials) with a group of mothers, or watching a movie with 6th grade students. Some of the best friends I made in my community were those I’d met in the library. Shayron had made the library a place where anyone was welcome. It wasn’t just a place for checking out books; it was a place for community.
While the strike deeply impacted the Costa Rican education system and presented numerous obstacles to students and teachers alike, I found my time in the library to be one of the most rewarding parts of my service. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to utilize a public space in my community while befriending one of the most dedicated and passionate women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. When life in the Peace Corps gets complicated, there are often opportunities to learn and grow in unexpected ways. We can’t always control what service hands to us, and oftentimes our circumstances aren’t ideal. This experience has taught me, however, that difficult circumstances often give us the chance to become more resilient, creative individuals.