5 continents, 18 countries, 10,000 stories

By Caitlin Churchill
June 4, 2015

Peace Corps Volunteers are an eclectic bunch. 

Here in Georgia I work with magicians, flight attendants, actors, chemists, rock climbers and publishers. We Volunteers are a mixed bag of professionals and non-professionals with diverse knowledge and talents.

Though I was initially impressed – and a bit intimidated – by my fellow Volunteers’ backgrounds, what I find incredibly charming is the sincere effort we’ve put into gaining new skills. Our host communities have unique needs, and on their behalf I have watched Volunteers transform from chemists to dental hygienists (of sorts), from guitarists to nutritionists, from salesmen to computer programmers. (And surely we’ve all now dabbled in event planning and advertising.)

A brilliant woman once told me that she became a successful book editor because she knew a little about a lot. Peace Corps Volunteers employ any resource possible to learn a little about a lot, and during our service we certainly strive to teach a lot of people every little bit we know.

Volunteers contemplate endlessly how to transfer ‘every little bit we know’ to host country nationals, and each attempt is valuable and worthwhile. But I’ve got a secret. And you know it. You know it because you’re one of those people who started as a chemist and learned to advise as a dental hygienist (of sorts). You’re one of those people who struggled and stretched and reached outside your skillset to meet the needs of others.

So what’s the burning secret?

Since you were a child, you’ve used creative and critical thinking to pretend and solve problems and to create. As a result, you’re not afraid to face a challenge, you’re rarely overcome by obstacles, and you have the mental wherewithal to expand beyond your current limitations. This is the well-known secret: critical and creative thinking skills help individuals learn independently and navigate life confidently.

Peace Corps Volunteers in more than 18 countries on five continents are working together to teach children and adults the importance of critical and creative thinking through writing. This year, the International Write On! Competition motivated 10,000 foreign students and professionals to think in new, wild ways while answering prompts like: "Describe how it feels to be a falling raindrop in a thunderstorm." (As 12th-grader Radia Soulmani from Morocco knows, We felt strong, and, together, we glowed as we were falling graciously through the void. We knew at that instant that it was our role to clean the dark sky from its heavy greyness, and that it was something we would do with the power of our will.)

I commend the winners of the International Write On! Competition, and you can enjoy their creative stories by visiting the Write On! Web site. Of all the original thoughts and perspectives, there was one pattern that emerged among 10,000 stories: an ending similar to this conclusion written by a university student in Cambodia, “I can’t wait to experience it myself although I know that at the end of the day, everything is just a dream — a dream in the sleeping and walking moments of my life.”

I encourage you to use opportunities like the International Write On! Competition to show our beloved host country nationals that their wildest ideas are not just dreams confined to the imagination, but an essential practice of creative expression and critical thinking. Peace Corps Volunteers around the world can teach others to be dreamers and ‘amateur experts’... just like we are.

Here's an entry from Georgian 11th-grader Natalia Tughushi (winner of first place national, second place international):

Prompt: 'What would the world be like if the sun was always shining and there was no night?'

Everything in the world comes in pairs. There’s light and there’s darkness, there’s good and there’s evil. There are days and there are nights. Why does the world have to be contrasting? I guess it is just meant to be so, but then again, wouldn’t people be happier if there was always light, so that they’d be never afraid of darkness? There was only good, so that people would do no bad to each other? There were only days and not nights, so that people would always enjoy the sun? And no, I think the world wouldn’t be happier, not even slightly. Let me put it this way, would you ever know, that there’s a light around you, if you’ve never been in darkness? Would he be able to tell good from bad, if you’ve only seen one, but not the other? Would he appreciate sun if it was always shining for you?

People are strange creatures. They understand the value of something once they have lost it. So if there fingers would never freeze from cold, if rain would never pour their heads, if snow would never wet their feet, they would never wake up and shout, “finally, the sun is shining, thanks god, for a sunny day!”

And the poor sun, tired of being unnoticed and so underestimated, will rest it’s head on clouds and cry. The tears will come pouring down the Earth, the darkness will fill every corner of the world. Misery will be on the faces of people until they cry out for help.

The sun will hear people are dying to have her. She’ll lift her head from the clouds, smile to the world and shine. And once again, the world will be the same. Place, where there’s a light and darkness, day and night. Because it’s how it was always meant to be.

Caitlin Churchill