My heart is back home in Namibia

By Holly Bjerke
Nov. 16, 2021

Every day since my return home I've thought about the people, places, and experiences of my service.

There are days in our lives that forever change who we are. On April 17, 2017, I left behind a life I loved and boarded a plane to begin training for a life as a Volunteer in a country I had never been to. I would be living and working with people I had never met, and serving alongside a group of fellow Volunteers I had met just days earlier. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew I had to go.

I had no idea that on that day, when I left behind the comfort of familiarity and began a journey into the unknown, that the next two years would be the most unforgettable, cherished years of my life.

Those two years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia, where I worked as a Community Economic Development Volunteer, ended on June 7, 2019. That day will always be the day I learned the true meaning of “bittersweet.” It was time to return home, and although I was excited to see my family and friends – and the luxuries of home I’d missed – I also grieved the impending loss of the community, people, experiences, and Volunteer life I loved. As the plane took off, I knew I was leaving a part of my heart in Namibia.

Every day since my return home I've thought about the people, places, and experiences of my service. In exchange for the many challenges and difficulties that come with being a Peace Corps Volunteer, my service taught me so much about myself. In Namibia, I learned what it means to be part of a community. I lived a life marked with meaning, purpose, and intention. My life has forever been changed by my service, and I carry with me the people, places, and experiences that helped shape who I am today. It always felt like a piece of me was missing – part of my heart had stayed behind in Namibia.

On June 24, 2021, that began to change.

It was the day I was selected to participate in the the Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot (VSP) and I was overcome with joy. VSP is an opportunity for participants to engage virtually with host country partners following the global evacuation of Volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During my first VSP meeting, I saw and heard the Peace Corps staff in Namibia for the first time in two years. I was ecstatic to finally meet my counterpart and the other people from the organization I would work with. The camaraderie of the Peace Corps poured back, too. Connecting with fellow VSP participants filled me with happiness long after the meeting ended.

Since that first virtual meeting, I have been reminded of several aspects of service that I got used to during my time as a Volunteer. For example, patience when things take longer to complete than anticipated, and flexibility to accommodate things such as time zone differences and cellphone service failing unexpectedly. I remembered the importance of taking the time to get to know my counterpart, rather than just jumping into tasks and activities.

My counterpart and I meet weekly to work together for the common goal of advancing the knowledge base and skills of small-business owners in Namibia. The work is rewarding and I love hearing and saying common Namibian phrases I haven’t heard or said since I returned home. I particularly love the familiarity of hearing the exchange of greetings in the local language.

It has been wonderful to collaborate with the Peace Corps staff in Namibia — the same people who helped shape and guide my first Peace Corps experience are now doing the same with VSP. I am forever grateful for both of my experiences with the Peace Corps. Since my virtual participation started, my heart feels whole once again because, through the magic of technology, it is back home in Namibia.

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