Friday, January 27, 2012

What do Peace Corps Volunteers Really Do?

So now that they’re approaching our 1 year anniversary as volunteers (March 1, 2012), you’re probably thinking – well, I know that Melinda and Stephen are Peace Corps volunteers, but what do they really do?  Below is a summary of some of their projects to give you an idea what they’ve been up this past year.

March 1 – May 15th – Training in Central Valley
May 15th – Present – Working in site
When they first arrived in site, Stephen & Melinda were tasked with writing a community diagnostic detailing what they learned about during training regarding the strengths, resources, weaknesses and opportunities that exist within the community.  Generally, Peace Corps volunteers do not start many, if any, projects during the first three months in site and focus their efforts on getting to know people in their community, drinking coffee with neighbors and community leaders, interviewing community members, getting to know the institutions and organizations that work within our pueblos and the people and power structures which make it tick (or not).   After the first three months, volunteers are supposed to deliver a first draft (which usually winds up being a minimum of 30 pages).  Between months 3-9 the fine-tuning and revisions are done and finally a final draft is printed to be presented to the counterpart organizations and community as a whole.  As this report was to be returned all in Spanish it presented a major challenge for both Melinda and Stephen.  They are happy to report (no pun intended) that their finally copy was finally printed (87 pages!) and they will be presenting it shortly to their counterparts and other interested local citizens and organizations.
Melinda and Stephen started two projects during our first three months, both of which they are still currently working on: Guías y Scouts (the Costa Rican version of Boy & Girl Scouts, Guías being “chicas” and Scouts being “chicos”) and a basic English class for 7-12 year olds.  The Guías y Scouts group represents the entire canton of Talamanca (roughly the size of a couple large counties in the US) and they currently have 40 members between the “manada” (herd) group, which are between 7- 10 years old, and the “tropa” (troop) ages 11-15.  Melinda and Stephen work with the tropa group.  One highlight during last year was that the tropa group was able to locally raise enough funds to participate in the first regional Guías y Scouts camp to be held in the southern part of the province of Limón.
Limón Campamento in Octobrer 2011
In addition to attending the camp, they have organized workshops with the local Cruz Roja (Red Cross) teaching the Tropa group about First Aid, taken trips to entertain the elderly in the community of Bambú during the holidays in the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve at the “Hogar de Ancianos” and went out into the community to raise funds for a children’s hospital in San Jose during the annual “Teletón”.  Below are a few pictures of both the Guías y Scouts group and our English class.

Our first students - we taught in both houses and a neighborhood church
Guías y Scouts learning first aid at the local Red Cross
As Stephen may have mentioned in a previous blog, Melinda and he are also working together in the elementary school doing environmental education, oftentimes in conjunction with his counterpart NGO organization, the Corredor Biológico Talamanca-Caribe (The Talamanca-Caribbean Biological Corridor).  Melinda and he have also worked with them in the field of solid waste management with a focus on recycling, but also getting people to be able to separate their organic and non-organic waste correctly as this lack of separation attracts bugs and disease and invites stray dogs to tear open and scatter trash in the streets as they look for something to eat.  They have performed numerous community-wide clean-ups in many towns across Talamanca and this month we are starting our first domestic recycling initiative in our own barrio.  This is a unique project and will be the first time in any town in Talamanca to have a domestic recycling pick-up system.  As they perfect their pilot plan, they will then extend the program to include the entire community.  This is a huge goal in a region where a large portion of the community still burns their trash and where the Municipality still does not have a consistent garbage collection system.
Recycling campaign in Shiroles/Suretka - two communities in the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve
Separately, Melinda has worked in the elementary school with a counterpart from the Health Ministry providing recreational activities and hosting “charlas” or talks around such important issues as self-esteem and stereotyping.  She also has had a young women’s support group in a nearby community which also dealt with similar subjects until the high school in which it was being held was closed for health concerns.  Note: The high school was being held in a community center which did not have proper walls (plastic), ventilation or a proper sanitation system and Melinda had to facilitate the charlas on the basketball court for lack of sufficient space.

Melinda and local counterpart faciliating an activity about stereotypes at the local elementary school
Stephen continues to use his IT skills as a member of the ICT Committee supporting other Peace Corps volunteers in all things technological, including writing up documentation to help volunteers navigate the online banking, internet and telephone networks here in Costa Rica.  Melinda and Stephen are also both active in their regional Limón volunteer support network.  They also
They have worked with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer in a neighboring community on a Community Map mural painted on the wall of the elementary school to teach kids about geography, history and current events, worked on a dengue prevention campaign with the local clinic and hosted online presentations and exchanges between youth in their site and 5th grade students in Howell, New Jersey in coordination with a program called World Wise Schools, helping to fulfill both the second and third goals of the Peace Corps which are concerned with cultural exchange and understanding.
As they head into the New Year, Stephen is working on a grant to get solar panels installed at his counterpart organization in an attempt to bring more consciousness about energy conservation and Melinda is contemplating starting a girl’s empowerment group here in our own pueblo.  Melinda and Stephen will also be looking to raise funds to help support the Bandera Azul program at the local elementary school which works toward improving the school environment (building a small recycling “warehouse”, replacing damaged ceiling tiles and fixing broken fans, improving/replacing the poorly maintained restrooms (see future blogs as we ask for your support!) and will also include a community map mural project of their own.

They’ve also participated in countless other activities and projects too numerous to be named, but just wanted to let you know that they’re not spending every day at the beach although when they need to take a day or two to get away from the stress, Costa Rica is not a bad place to be :-).

1 comment:

  1. I am so impressed with the hard work and dedication you two offer! Keep it up! - Steve