Service is not just about what's on your reporting form
When entering Peace Corps service, a Volunteer envisions herself "saving the world." I think most of us do not really know what we are getting into when we are volunteering abroad.
I am a Health Volunteer in Ethiopia, in a small town in the Amhara region. My town has a population of 2,500 people and I am the first foreigner that has ever lived here.
When I first got to site, everyone was trying to figure me out and wondering what I was doing here. I would get questions like, "Why would you leave the United States of America to come to our country? We are trying to go to USA!" I would just chuckle and tell them in my broken Amharic, "Well, because I wanted to get away from something I already knew and do something bigger than myself, so now I am here to help all of you."
Whenever I would say, "I am here to help you," I would think, what can I leave these people that is tangible and let them say, "We had a Peace Corps Volunteer here named Paris and she did this"?
Now, a year into my service, I have learned my true purpose here. A lot of my work comes from the schools through health classes, English clubs, and gender empowerment clubs. My best friends in my town are the kids. The biggest smiles run up to me and greet me in the morning as if they have not seen me in ages! Hermela yells out, "Paris, zare timirtibet timatalesh?" "Paris, will you be coming to school today?" I love the excitement when I tell them yes!
I realize a lot of these kids might not understand the material I am teaching to them, or even use the practices; it is a hard pill to swallow because as Volunteers we work pretty hard on these programs and to get them working for our town's benefit. However, when I look back on elementary school, I don't remember my third grade teacher Mrs. Millberg because of a science lesson; she is my favorite teacher because I remember her big smile and how she made me fall in love with learning. So, like the children I now teach, 10 years from now they might not remember what I taught them that day in hygiene club, but they will remember the energy and positivity they felt whenever we were together. It's about how you make people feel.
My favorite times in my town are drinking coffee with my neighbors, speaking with them about nothing and everything while they make injera, and playing outside with the coolest kids on the block. Those moments are not counted on our report forms, but they are the most important. These moments are what my town will remember.
Being a Volunteer in Peace Corps is an amazing journey and roller coaster. I am so grateful that the universe has brought me here and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.
Life called, so I went as far as Ethiopia and I am spending my greatest moments with 2,500 smiling faces every day.