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David G.

“Working with my community has taught me that unity and collaboration are key to success.”

Headshot of a Volunteer smiling wearing a white shirt and standing against a yellow wall.

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

Prior to my service, I worked for over 10 years as a senior researcher in a business school and felt like I needed to challenge myself to something radically different that would bring me out of my comfort zone. My mother, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) from Niger, had always praised the work of the Peace Corps. I decided to follow her steps. Initially I was sent to Lesotho to serve as a math teacher but was unfortunately evacuated, like all other Volunteers, during the COVID-19 crisis. I remember feeling like I hadn’t achieved what I came to do and when I was given the opportunity to serve again, this time in Sierra Leone, I did not hesitate one second.

2. What projects are you working on?

I serve primarily as a math teacher in a junior secondary school (the equivalent of a middle school). On a day-to-day basis, I do, however, much more than teach. I oversee the library, collaborate with teachers to develop new approaches to teaching, work with the prefectural body to create a school-friendly environment, and, finally, serve as a counsellor for students.

Alongside these activities, I have also been involved in the promotion and development of STEM fields at the senior secondary school in our town. I have secured funding for, coordinated, and monitored the construction and furnishing of the new science laboratory, organized workshops for teachers on the proper use and maintenance of the science laboratory, and am now conducting subject-specific training sessions to craft new lesson plans for efficient utilization of the laboratory.

Volunteer reading with a young girl in Sierra Leone.
David reading with a young community member.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

While being a Volunteer requires flexibility and adaptability, I have always believed that being myself while also being open to others, would be the best strategy for integrating into my community. Indeed, authenticity and open-mindedness have been key to my successful integration.

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

I have had many highlights so far, but if I had to choose one, that would have to be mango season. Mango trees can be found all over my village and are cared for by all community members eager to see nature bear its fruits. When mango trees begin to change, so does the mood of the people. Mangoes simply make people happy: they are a synonym of abundance. They come in different sizes, colors, and textures, and each variety has its own specific flavor. When the time comes, they are eaten by the dozen. Like the people in my community, I have come to cherish mango season and find myself impatiently waiting for the next season to start again. I love mango season for the fruits it carries, of course, but also for the power it has on people, for the better.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

Peace Corps service is often depicted as a lonely journey, and I have certainly felt lonely at times. I have hardly ever, however, been alone. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by kind and generous people, people I now call my family, who look after me day after day. These are the people I spend most of my time with. They have introduced me to their culture and have taught me a lot about their norms, values, traditions, and beliefs. They have helped me integrate. More importantly, they have made me one of theirs. My Peace Corps experience would not have been the same had they not been there for me. They have made it easy for me to serve and I will always be most grateful to them for their invaluable and generous support.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

In my community, I came as a “stranger” (as they would call any visitor, whether from a nearby village or distant country). Despite our differences, we understand each other. I now realize that no matter how "strange” people may appear to each other at first, and no matter where they come from, people always have a lot in common, sharing similar goals and aspirations, whether in terms of life expectations or how they care for their loved ones. More than ever, I am convinced that when different people choose to come together and join forces, it can only be for the better. If anything, working with my community has taught me that unity and collaboration are key to success: “When (and if) there is a (common) will, there is a (common) way.”

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

Most of my time outside of work is spent on domestic chores, in particular cooking. Back home, I was used to preparing quick, easy-to-make meals for myself. Here, I spend hours every day cooking large meals for close to 15 people. Everything is done manually, and even the smallest task takes time. I usually fry fish or meat, cut the “plasas” (leaves used in stews), beat the pepper, chop the onions, and prepare our daily portion of rice. I also have found great pleasure in making my own “cana” (a local version of peanut butter mixed with rice flour and sugar), which I eat every morning for breakfast. I have become an expert in peeling large quantities of peanuts in a record time!

When all my chores are done, I typically spend the remainder of the day playing games with the children in my neighborhood or simply sitting down with the elders discussing village issues or listening to their stories. Days usually go by quickly, and while I always want to do more, sleep often catches me early.

A Volunteer working with a community member to make cana in Sierra Leone.
David working with a community member to make cana.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

During the remaining months of my service, I am looking forward to doing as much as I can to serve the students at my school. They have been the main reason why I have been in country and my hope is that I will have helped them build a better future for themselves. As I near the end of my service, I am also looking forward to seeing the projects I am working on, particularly at the senior secondary school, come fully to life. I am eager to see the science laboratory we built together with my community become fully operational.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

Back home, I had been used to seeing my projects run relatively smoothly. When faced with challenges, the solution was often to simply add more resources. Here, adding resources is hardly ever possible and hardly ever desired. Projects simply do not work that way. If I have learned one lesson during my stay in country is that it is sometimes necessary to do with what is at hand, even though the result may not be exactly what was planned. This does not mean that one should have low standards or expectations. Instead, what I have learned is: 1) to always celebrate my achievements, no matter how small, 2) to accept my mistakes (as well as that of others) and that not everything is (or has to be) perfect, and 3) to move on rapidly (because no matter how much effort is put into a project, there is always room for improvement).