06 March 2013

peace corps week: the week that wasn't

I had grand plans for Peace Corps Week. I was going to post here several times related to the various themes for the week to share with you all back home. Perhaps it’s apropos, in the ironic sense of how things seem to go in Peace Corps, that those plans all but crumbled. First, there was the issue of electricity and internet; the former was intermittent at best and the latter ran out at the beginning of the week. Then there was the issue of motivation, which was thoroughly bruised by some personal/emotional speedbumps and continued frustrations with my assigned school (not uncommon, but amplified by my personal state). In the end, I did not stick to my Peace Corps Week plan. But that’s OK. The themes will provide a springboard for future topics.

Equally apropos was how the frustrations and challenges of the week were all but wiped away with how the week came to a close. I showed up at the school on Friday with plans to observe one section of grade 8 English, but the teacher was nowhere to be found. I decided to improvise. Since Friday was officially “Peace Corps Day,” I figured I’d try and teach the kiddos a thing or two about the good ole Corps. I wasn’t really prepared, exactly, but I grabbed my Peace Corps handbook, a bag of colored chalk, a few pieces of printer paper, and headed toward the class with my “wing it” attitude.

I kept it simple to start, directing students away from the idea that I was a Peace Corpse Volunteer. I then read aloud the first line and core of Peace Corps’ mission:

The Peace Corps was established in 1961 to promote world peace and friendship through the service of American Volunteers abroad.

I lingered, perhaps too long, on defining “established, “Volunteers,” and “abroad” before failing miserably at having the students write their own definition of “world peace and friendship” in their notebooks. So I read the defense, pulled a Peyton Manning, and passed out the printer paper to groups of students so they could, as a group, come up with a visual representation of “world peace and friendship.” It was total crickets at first, but a couple students caught on and it spread like wildfire, spilling well over into the next teacher’s 40 minutes, though he didn’t seem to mind too much.

Seeing as I hadn’t much else to do, I figured I’d go ahead and try my hand at the other two sections that the teacher would have been responsible to teach for the remainder of the day. Armed with examples of “visual representation,” I decided to cut out the writing portion and save it for students who might finish early. In short, it was a huge success.

Here are some of my favorites from the three sections:

Elegant and straightforward. Might be my fave.

Too abstract not to love.

Love the Valentine's overlap.

The kissing was a big hit.

The "X" is canceling out war. Works for me.

"Birds of a feather flock together" FTW
Soccer + running + hearts + Ethiopia = World Peace

Apparently the G-like thing is Amharic, but the bird rocks.

As a bonus, I logged into my email when I returned home, for the first time in four days, to find a handful of responses to an email I sent out to a handful of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) asking them to respond to Thursday’s theme:

Foster Global Citizenship

Peace Corps Volunteers are global citizens who both know the world and make a difference at home through civic engagement. Foster global citizenship in your community by letting others know how the Peace Corps transformed you and how you are continuing to serve.

Here's what a few RPCVs had to say:

“After completing my Peace Corps service, I moved to New York and started a Master's in Global Affairs at NYU. During all of my classes, I have kept in mind the small community where I lived and worked for those two years, thinking about how the policies and trends we would discuss would impact them and other communities like theirs throughout the world. My master's thesis is focused on both the positive and negative impacts of private investment in agriculture in Ethiopia. I will submit it in April, graduate in May, and hope to bring my the skills and leadership qualities I gained as a Peace Corps Volunteer to a new challenge.”

John Schellhase, RPCV Philippines, 2008-2010

*Personal Note: John came to Ethiopia for work related to his master’s. While we never had the opportunity to meet in person, we exchanged several messages on Facebook related to his visit.

“My Peace Corps service confirmed what really mattered to me. I can say without a doubt, the happiest time I’ve ever been was when I lived in a mud hut far removed from computer access and a shower head. I learned that family, community and the relationships within these two were at the core of love and life. If it wasn’t for this amazing opportunity to see another way of life, without all the distractions, I wouldn’t have learned this. Each year, I get a chance to lead a group of students from around the country to visit a Peace Corps Volunteer’s site by volunteering with an organization called Courts for Kids. It is during these trips that I get the opportunity to not only volunteer again but to also witness the transformation in others.”

Ciara Johnson, RPCV Guinea, 2007-2009 

*Personal Note: Ciara was my Peace Corps recruiter – so essentially my first human contact with Peace Corps after submitting my application back in January 2011.

"There is no way that I can tell you everything that has happened to me because I joined the Peace Corps. The easiest thing to say is this: once a PCV, always a PCV. Same as the Marines. You never "unjoin" the Peace Corps. You are the Peace Corps."

Dan Close, RPCV Ethiopia, 1966-1968

*Personal Note: Dan actually served in Bekoji and reached out to me after coming across this here blog. Pretty awesome. 

Finally, there was one activity I had envisioned for Peace Corps Week that I was unable to bring to life, which would have been to invite students and teachers to come to my classroom and listen to John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, with either copies to hand out, or the whole speech written out on large sheets of paper for everyone to see. While JFK put Peace Corps into motion a little more than a month after the address, you can very much hear the life he's breathing into the organization from day 1. If you've never taken the time to give it a listen, I urge you to do so: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLmiOEk59n8

There are definitely a couple parts that rub me the wrong way a tad, but it's one of the best all-around speeches I've ever heard.


  1. The response that was a week and three days later: some of the best lessons in life are the ones which are "winged". In spite of the emotional lows, or maybe because of them, you will continue to grow and be more of the incredible PCV which you are. Bunches of love to you Joe, and btw, I thought that the colors of the Ethiopian flag were green, yellow and red. Did the kids not have those colors in their boxes?

  2. Mama D - You are certainly correct about the colors of the Ethiopian flag (and you placed them in the correct sequence as well, which is very important). The kids definitely did not have those colors. Most of them were lucky to even have a pen, and the red pens were being passed around and shared in many cases. Even for the Ethiopian flag I recently drew for a poster in my classroom needed a little creativity, as the only marker colors I have are red, green, blue, and black. I happened to have a highlighter I was able to use for the yellow. The timing of you question is actually perfect, I was just thinking how I should have someone bring/send over a big box of crayons, a variety of sharpie markers, and other items for more color variety.

  3. From the first drawing, it looks like beverages of some kind play an important role in world peace. Seems your student tapped a viable source of community-building!

    Also, sheep, as in "friend sheep" could be key players.