Dear Family and Friends,
Why did you apply to Peace Corps?
When you think about life, about what a life holds, for me it holds purpose. I know this may sound cheesy for some or generic yet I took this moto for life very seriously. From a young age service had always been a large part of my life. I remember having a world map in our bathroom growing up and my mother would pin point a place or even sometimes have me chose a place and we pack our bags and go. Once at this destination whether it was Belize, India, Nepal, China, we would spend some time visiting and touring and the other time giving back. This idea of service never stopped at the small trips we took but became a ritual. A giving ritual. During the holidays I spent my time volunteering at food banks, wrapping Christmas gifts, visiting Veteran hospitals. This became my idea of purpose. I saw what it meant to people that I gave my time. I saw that it meant a difference and produced happiness for them. I saw a purpose. I heard of Peace Corps when I was in Middle School. Unlike other children around that age instead of going to the movies or buying new clothes, I was at dog shelters walking pups, or cleaning trash at the local park.
Once I graduated high school and entered college, I began revisiting the idea of serving in another country for a long amount of time. I enjoy learning about new cultures, seeing new places, and felt that many challenges I could foresee I had already met in my previous travels. .I felt ready. I felt that Peace Corps could provide me with tools to help people serve themselves. Indeed after being here in Madagascar for 18 months, I have learned so much about myself and about how to work in the field. I am grateful to have had this opportunity.
I recently was asked this question and wanted to really dive into what has been my biggest challenge throughout my Peace Corps Service.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Biggest challenge I have had during my service is “saying no”. I know it sounds funny, “what does she mean saying ‘no’?” Well, once you have successfully integrated, when babies stop crying at first sight of you, and stares become smiles, people become comfortable with you. Every day community members ask me, “Please can you teach me English? Please would you be able to spare an hour to speak with me? Please can you give me books so that my children can become smarter?” When I first got to site, I felt much pressure to say yes to all requests. Soon I realized I could not split myself into numerous people and did not have enough time or energy to respond to all the wants and needs of my community. I became stressed out, not being able to fulfill everyone’s wants. I felt horrible if I said “no”, and would wear myself out saying “yes”. I was able to conquer this challenge, by asking my community for solutions, having conversations about their vision for Mahanoro. How could I develop something that would help many while still allowing me a good balance. The idea emerged to create a Cultural Center. A place that would provide educational opportunities for children and adults, a library stocked with books, and most importantly a place where the future of Mahanoro could develop and grow in a positive environment.
The Cultural Center of Hope is going extremely well. I could not be more proud. A person very dear to me once said, “Charlotte when things get rough just put your head down and go.” Things have not been easy lately, my parents recent divorce, my uncle passing away, medical issues. Yet, this Center has truly given me hope. It has given me strength. These children are inspiring. Seeing them eat books with their eyes. Seeing them starve for knowledge, its really amazing, its truly inspirational. The center has been a work in progress. I have gone from just being a high school teacher to opening the first ever Cultural Center in Mahanoro. The children flock from every direction once I open the door, screaming “ Hello MISS! MISS Vocabulary!!! Miss I like the book!!!”
My mornings start early. At 4:30-5:00 I get up water my plants (still attempting to garden). Then open the center at 6:30 so kids can hangout before school starts. My librarian, Madame Bao Sabine and Madame Kameline arrive, take my place and I bike 2 miles to the high school. I teach from 7 am – 9am then again from 9am – 11 am. By 11:15 I am back at the Center closing it up and answering final questions from kids. I head upstairs (where I stay), attempt to gather together a lunch. Right now it has consisted of grated carrots and sardines! Sometimes My neighbor (I think she notices how late I have been preparing lunch and that I do not eat rice and feels bad) so often she brings over fish or rice. Very very sweet of her.
By 2:00pm I am opening up the doors of the center and staying open until 6:30pm. Adults start trickling in around 5:00 pm when they finish working their day jobs or have just gotten back from the countryside for clove picking season. We go over some vocabulary and I answer any dialogue questions they may have.
Classes will begin in January. I am really looking forward to teaching.
I received great news the Chef Cisco will be building an exterior bungalow to be used as an extra teaching space! This comes to me as wonderful news seeing that we have 670 members!!!
Classes will begin in January. I am really looking forward to teaching.
I received great news the Chef Cisco will be building an exterior bungalow to be used as an extra teaching space! This comes to me as wonderful news seeing that we have 560 members!!!
Update on the Cultural Center of Hope.
This week I ordered tables, chairs, and bookshelves. I even drew out detailed designs of the furniture to ensure a positive results ! Reminded me of my uncle mark! Drawing out architect designs on scrap paper.
This weekend the furniture arrived. Looks great, tomorrow I will be sanding, painting, and varnishing the pieces.
We have 489 membership sign ups! So exciting. I am really looking forward to starting the classes in January.
Each member must participate by paying 1000 Ariary a month. ( 22 cents) This allows members full access 7 days a week to a library and study room. In addition, the opportunity to sign up for classes, french, English, or computer courses.
Big news! After 3 weeks of searching EVERYWHERE for white boards ( they use blackboards here in schools) I finally found a 3 meter by 1 1/2 meter whiteboard! It looks great in our classroom.
I want to express my greatest appreciation to those of you who have supported this project. It is with relief, happiness, and perseverance that I report to you this great news!
More to come on my PEACE CORPS PROJECT.
Some people ask, ” What are your biggest challenges being a Peace Corps volunteer?”
A couple things come to mind…
1. Using holes as toilets and getting overly joyous when a kabone (hole in the ground) doesn’t have swarms of flies or larva flying around. Ew..
2. Forgetting what water pressure feels like and when the opportunity is available for a hot shower you burn yourself because your skin squints as the foreign heat approaches your body.
3. Being squished, okay squeezed, okay piled on top of people in a taxi brousse. Where normally 4 people sit comfortably you find yourself side by side toppled over 8 in one row. Don’t forget the chickens pecking at your heals, the baby gnawing at your purse strap, and the woman asking you to hold her voandalana (gift to bring home) while your butt cheeks have lost all sensation from sitting on the hot withered brousse seats.
4. Having people look at you all the time, let me repeat ALL the time. Kids yelling VAZAHA, while running circles around you.
5. Missing market day and making crazy concoctions of food for dinner- hoping for a good outcome. Personal favorite- (rice [of course], sakay [hot sauce], parmesan cheese [lifesaver! thanks mom] and some sardines) Don’t forget the PROTEIN!
With these every day challenges comes the joys, the ups, the reasons why we volunteers do what we do. Some great examples of these joys in the past year of service:
1. Waking up to my two little sisters (neighbors, but you know everyone is family once you live next to one another long enough) singing at 5 am. Then when they see that my door is open at 5:15 am they peak their heads in and yell “GOOODDD MOrrrrrNING CHARLOTTTTEyyyyy! Now that is a wake up call and a beautiful one.
2. Malagasy people are some of the most giving, sweet, and nurturing beings I have met. Yes there are those days where I have missed the market, taught 8 hours and wasn’t able to buy food for the night. I come home lay down on the floor (where it is much colder believe me it is HOT out here) and just here my tummy rumble. All of a sudden I here my Neny (host-mom) yell through the wood and palm tree panels separating our homes, “Mandroso SAKAFO!” This translates- “Come get some food girl!” I smile, and walk over to a pile of rice and my favorite, homemade lentils with garlic- we eat together and enjoy each others company.
3. Sometimes having people look at you all the time, curiously investigating your freckles and assuming you don’t shower, can be difficult. (People have told me I need to shower more because I have dirt dots on my skin… freckles are mysterious things- who would have known.) Yet, the benefits to having people look at you all the time is that you can then look at them all the time too! This leads to the ritual greetings, “Manakory, Ino vaovao?” Hey Whats up? Next thing you know you are having a full on conversation about their kids, their family, the rice fields, the weather. And, after all that you have either been invited for lunch, to the wedding ceremony next week, and undoubtedly to attend church with the family this coming weekend. Stares are a beautiful thing- get used to it, and embrace it.
4. Rice. I repeat. RICE. I had a love hate relationship with RICE when I first landed in Mada. Now, I can’t live without the white grains on my plate! I don’t feel full without eating rice and all my meals MUST include this beautiful RICE! haha.. okay really though I have grown to enjoy it- even if many times it involves cracking parts of my teeth on pebbles (or rocks) which were hiding in the grains.
5. My favorite UP this year and my most joyous moment: speaking Malagasy. I remember trying to learn Malagasy greetings through a Youtube video when I received my acceptance letter for Peace Corps.
youtube: repeat after me “Salama”
me (thinking): oh…goodness here we go..
Now a year later, I am impressed not only with how I have been able to adapt to this new culture, and new way of life, but how I have been able to express myself in Malagasy. I think in Gasy, I speak in Gasy, I even sometimes have DREAMS [I kid you not] in GASY! I love surprising Malagasy people with my Malagasy. They automatically think all foreigners are French (due to the fact that Madagascar was colonized by France, many people speak French here). They see me they revert to French, when I answer in Malagasy- an enormous smile appears. That smile is worth many many nights reading a Malagasy dictionary!