Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around a while, you might miss it. –Ferris Bueller. That quote pretty much sums up how I feel about the last two years. Sunday marked two years for me in Peru, and since September 2008 I’ve been on quite a wild ride. I’ve recently taken some time to reflect on my past two years with all the other PCVs who are part of my same training group, Peru 12.
September 2nd and 3rd, just two days after a fun vacation with Elizabeth and Tippy (Tippy might not agree so much about the fun part), I attended my Close of Service, or COS, conference. The COS conference was two days in Lima with the 38 PCVs out of the original 47 people that have made it through their service. Peru has one of the highest PCV retention rates in the world, and losing 9 people might seem like a lot but it’s actually pretty good, considering the hardships of being a PCV. All nine people who left did so during the first year in Peru.
COS was a nice recap of what we’ve accomplished as a group, it was full of information about what we have to do to actually leave Peru, and there were helpful hints about writing résumés and getting jobs once we get home. I was expecting a much more emotional event, as it was the last time that we will be together as a group and most likely the last time I’ll ever see some of the people who I started Peace Corps with, but I guess we’ve all become immune to emotional hardship and the event ended up pretty being tranquil.
So, after two years, what do I think? We’ll that is a great question. Would I do Peace Corps again? 100 % yes. Do I think Peace Corps is a useful and worthwhile use of U.S. Government resources and the time of PCVs? Certainly. As a group, our list of accomplishments is impressive: thousands of trees planted, community and micro landfills built, many people educated, improved sanitation for many, list goes on and on. But that isn’t all.
Upon returning to my community after a ten day vacation and a week in Lima (a long time away from site), I’ve realized the biggest impact I’ve had isn’t the garbage collection system I’ve helped to start or the hundreds of trees we’ve planted, but the relationships that have been developed. That might sound funny, that relationships are worth all that U.S. Govt. investment, but I can attest that that is where the real difference is made.
Some people in my town (usually old people) still don’t know exactly what I “do” as a PCV, but what they do know is that I’m the “environment guy”. In my town people are starting to think about the environment in a new way. They’ve always been dependent on the land here in Tomas, but now a few people’s thoughts are set on maintaining and improving the environmental quality not only for their wellbeing, but also to be responsible citizens of Peru and the world. This environmental consciousness will stay with many of my students, my environmental committee, and a few others long after I leave. That is the most sustainable way to improve the wellbeing of many people, along with the environment here in Peru.
Aside from the work aspect, I’ve developed friendships that I’ll never forget, and I can only hope that they’ll never forget either. This group of friends includes about 100 students ranging from ages 3 to 17, many professors, community members, park guards, and many Tíos and Tías (literally meaning uncles and aunts, but also the generic term a young person uses with elderly people). I won’t forget all the “buenos dias joven Yared” (meaning “good morning young man Jared”) and “hola hijito” (meaning “hi son”, said with care) that I’ve recieved. I have no idea how these friendships will affect the people of Tomas, but I know that these friendships will have more affect on the people than if the U.S. Govt. came in giving donations to the people.
So, I thank all you tax payers for the opportunity to have this wonderful experience and all who have supported me in many ways during my service here in Peru. You helped to affect many lives, in ways that will forever be unknown. To sum this up, when someone asks me, “How was the Peace Corps?” I think my response will be, “It was the toughest, most rewarding friendship that I’ve ever had.”
I’m sure my opinions of Peace Corps will change a little as I actually leave Peru and have a time to process this whole experience. My worldview is a little more jaded than before, although I still have great hope for the people in Tomas and in Peru. But, when I officially end my service on November 24th, 2010, I’ll leave being fulfilled by what I’ve been able to do here and enriched by the relationships I’ve had with my fellow community members, my fellow PCVs, and the country I’ve gotten to know so well, Peru.