In celebration to my admission to Denver – I would like to share with you the essay I wrote about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I could not have had a successful time without the support of my family and friends at home or my Peace Corps family of volunteers and locals. Thank you
For as long as I can remember I have been an advocate for equality and social justice, but my time in the Peace Corps exposed me to just how important it is to stand up and fight for those who are too disempowered to fight for themselves. I learned through my experience of living in Las Pajas, a marginalized community of Haitian decent set in the middle of the sugar cane, the many different faces of poverty, discrimination and marginalization. These experiences have both changed me as an individual and helped to strengthen my career goals to continue to fight for disempowered individuals and educate others on social issues that are affecting the impoverished and marginalized of our world.
Limited access to employment, health care and education were barriers to success that the people I lived and worked with faced every day of their lives. There were national laws that denied the majority of the men, women and children a birth certificate, forcing them to be stateless and denying them their basic human right to a name and a country. There were high drop out rates for boys in primary school and extremely high illiteracy rates among female community members. Boys were growing up with a lack of adult role models and girls were entering in abusive romantic relationships with men up to twice their age. Teen pregnancy was as common as bacterial infections from bad drinking water, which is to say, extremely. With so many social problems and injustice, how can one begin to help?
It is said that volunteers don’t work for the community but with the community; that volunteers live among the people and learn from them while empowering community members to address issues that they themselves have identified as a priority. During my time living in the Dominican Republic, I worked with youth and parents on a wide array of social issues through youth groups and community driven projects. I led a number of groups focusing on gender equality for women, held community events educating mothers and their daughters on reproductive health and domestic violence. I worked with local community counterparts to construct a library and technology center and together we ran literacy classes for both adults and children. I coached sports teams and ran art classes while teaching about how to prevent the spread of HIV. I provided local youth leaders with opportunities to leave the impoverished and marginalized community and meet other like-minded youth while further developing their leadership skills. Most importantly I showed the youth that a world exists beyond the oppressive sugar cane curtain and I served as a loving and caring adult in their lives for two years and a half years. I wasn’t always successful in my projects, but I did always work with the people.
When leaving the Peace Corps, one worries about how they will describe their service to others. Volunteers struggle with explaining how even the failures were successes, because it was through such failures that we learned how to succeed. My service was filled with hardships and failures but looking back, I do not regret a single mistake. I learned how to ask for help and take the time to really get to know others and learn how to best work and live with people very different from myself. Serving in the Peace Corps was an opportunity of a life time and while I will never be sure of the impact my service had in Las Pajas, I can be sure of the impact that the people of Las Pajas made on me, and that is a positive one. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I have, will see success even in my failures, and will never give up fighting for equality and justice.