In order to celebrate making the one-year mark, as well as a way to give readers a glimpse into what other volunteers do on the island, I present the “One Year Later” series. This series celebrates my fellow volunteers as they share what it feels like to make it to the one-year mark as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica. This is the second addition of the series, read the first "One Year Later" here. Here are Cha Cha's words on reaching the one-year mark:
I am assigned to the environment sector in Three Hills, St. Mary. I live about 20 minutes from Ocho Rios on the St. Mary side of the White River. My initial assignment was with the Three Hills Farmer Association. This has been a struggle since the people up here are not really farmers and many do not want to actually farm or learn new farming techniques. There are a few that do want to, but getting them to commit to a time is difficult. I also get frustrated with all the fighting over land boundaries and paredial larceny. I have focused more on a secondary project and the local schools. I try to achieve all 3 of my goals, some months I am successful, other months if I get one goal I am excited. It is a give and take type of situation.
The local school has allowed me to build up some raised beds done Hugelkultur style. I call them self watering and self feeding beds. One of my local farmers helped plant seeds while I was gone and he told them they had to get some fertilizer. Again my frustration with the farmers not wanting to understand new or different ideas. My other two big secondary projects are the literacy club I have started. I have several men who either were unable to read at all or wanted to improve themselves in some fashion, showing up on Monday and Thursday nights. They actually show up! They are also starting to read. Some progress more than others, but it is ok, each has their own challenge and they are all doing great. Getting library cards was a huge win for them all. I am so glad we took the time to do that. My other secondary project is the formation of a new citizen's association. We have already had two major clean-up days and have had some of the group's picture in the local paper. So even though things do not feel progressive at times, I know they are. Next up two new trash skips!
Hitting the one year mark is a major landmark for me. I only struggled back in early December but that was mostly due to a relationship issue, which I am happy to say worked itself out. I never realized how difficult it would be to move so far away from friends and family. I think the best part was making the decision to buy Richard a ticket to come see me next month. His visit will end right at the halfway mark and the timing is just perfect.
How do I feel about the one year mark? I feel empowered, I feel small, and I feel proud of all that has happened in my life and my community. I remember people asking why would you go serve in a foreign country? You can make a difference right in your own home! Well that is true but I always felt like I am going to gain so much more than I put into the experience, and that has rang true so much. Sure I struggle, but I have learned so much about myself and my coping mechanisms. I have learned how to small up not just myself but my budget and my ideologies. I have expanded my ability to integrate and myself. I have shared, I have laughed, and secretly I have cried. I am also finding that I really like who I am and who I have become. I also now understand that changing the world is really about changing yourself and your outlook.
In the next year I hope to rebuild the farm group and have the citizen's association moving forward with a momentum that cannot be stopped. I hope to see more and more people unite in the community and understand that they, themselves are the change they need to see. I also want to see more raised beds all over my community.
For future volunteers my one piece of advice is this: success never looks how you feel it should. Success can be people knowing your name, it can be school kids excited to show you the “tree” they just planted, it can be a young man smiling at the realization that he just read an entire page by himself. It can be any of that, it can also be when you yourself understand that the men on the side of the road giving you a hard time are only there because there are no jobs to be had, not because they do not want to work. Success is anything and everything around you that you decide to see the good in. It is people starting to pick up trash without an organized trash pick up day. It is people asking you about your diet because they notice you lost weight and you seem very healthy and they are all getting sick. It might be a person asking you to please show them how to do something. It can also be a major failure, because you learned valuable insight and if you do try again it will be done in a different manner. Success is really just knowing, yourself and your community.
Read more about Cha Cha's adventures in her personal blog.
Until next time!