Every Peace Corps volunteer brings their own passions, observations, perceptions and knowledge to the table, and are placed in a communities that also have their own distinct qualities. One volunteer in Jamaica that lives only a stone’s throw away from another volunteer is most likely having an entirely different experience. Some factors that may make a huge difference between volunteers include:
- Which sector is the volunteer serving in? Jamaica has two sectors, Environment and Education, which have their own respective objectives (although we both serve to meet the overall mission of the Peace Corps program).
- What is the host organization’s (school, farmers’ group, club, etc.) stage of development? Is it a brand new organization? Is the community invested in the work they do? Have they ever completed a grant?
- How active is community outside of the host organization's assignment? Is there an active community center? Youth clubs? Farmers’ groups?
- Has the community ever hosted a PCV before the current volunteer? When you are the first volunteer, it takes more time for the community to wrap their head around what Peace Corps is and what a volunteer is trying to achieve.
- This is minor, but I feel like how close you are to tourism can vary your experience in subtle ways
This list is just off the top of my head, so I am sure there are so many other factors that would give volunteers their own unique experience during our 27 months of service.
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. Group 86 has come a long way since awkwardly stepping off the plane as sweaty, disorientated trainees at Norman Manley International Airport. I constantly draw inspiration and strength from my fellow volunteers, and in these posts I think you’ll see that these folks are truly remarkable, determined, and resilient.
Before I even start the first edition on my fellow volunteer, Bill, check out this brief article on how Peace Corps has been a lifetime adventure with his wonderful wife, Lois:
The Couple That Serves Together Stays Together: Peace Corps Couple Serves for Third Time in Nearly 40 Years of Marriage
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2016 – Nearly 40 years after getting married, Lois Jean Siska, 60, and Bill Yamartino, 62, are serving together as Peace Corps volunteers for the third time. Just three weeks after saying ‘I do’ in 1977, the couple departed for Peace Corps service on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Siska and Yamartino then served two years in Nepal in the 1980s before departing for their third Peace Corps service in Jamaica last year.
“We adopted our oldest daughter in Nepal and have had three more children,” Siska said. “After raising our family and retiring, we decided to once again embark on two years of service with the Peace Corps as ambassadors of the United States, promoting friendship and fostering peace.”
Siska and Yamartino, of Wayland, Massachusetts, have never been afraid of a challenge and feel Peace Corps service has helped shape their view of the world. Throughout their services, the couple has always believed that working together has been a strength in their projects.
“Sharing great challenges has strengthened our marriage as much as all the great joys we’ve shared,” Yamartino said. “We always have each other when things get frustrating or difficult. We’re convinced that we can do almost anything we set our minds to.”
Siska and Yamartino’s support system extends far beyond each other. Their children and grandchildren, as well as Yamartino’s 87-year-old mother, are very proud of the three-time volunteers. The relationships the couple has forged with their host communities have also been a source of strength.
“I know that my service has an impact on my community, but far greater is the impact living in my community has on me,” Siska said. “The amount I learned in the countries in which I served and the relationships I made have enhanced my life greatly.”
Although a fourth Peace Corps service is not in the couple’s current plans for the future, according to Yamartino, “never say never.”
As you can see, it is hard to mention Bill without Lois. Although they are two individual, wonderful people, they have been a great team for close to 40 years!
And now onto some questions with Bill!
What sector are you in/what is your assignment?
Environment-Green Initiative. I work with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and the New Forest Water Users Association. As a secondary project I am hoping to get an adult literacy project going through JLLF and my farmers group.
How does it feel reaching the one year mark?
My feet have been firmly planted on Jamaican earth for 365 days. Some years are just more memorable than others and this has been one of those years. Living as a stranger in a strange land is challenging and rewarding in so many ways. Most of the time, the rewards outweigh the challenges, but not always. No getting around it, being a Peace Corps volunteer is hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Peace Corps has changed a lot in the 32 years since we were in Nepal as Volunteers, but one of the things that has not changed are the amazing friendships that we’ve made. It does the heart good to let love grow for so many wonderful people. Shared experience has a way of making the 35-40 years that separate us from most of the other volunteers irrelevant. They are a remarkable group of young people; we just go to bed earlier.
The Jamaica that people envision and dream about occupies only a tiny fraction of this land. The Jamaica that we live and work in is a place full of people sometimes struggling to get by and do right by their families.
Somehow, there’s always room for one more in the local busses and taxis… Jamaican’s just say “small up” and the next person gets in the vehicle. Not unusual to be riding in a compact sized taxi with the driver and 6-7 passengers.
We miss our children more than we thought we would coming into this adventure. It is the single hardest thing about being here.
A Peace Corps friend from Nepal once told us that the way to endure the sometimes tortuous local travel (especially if your suffering with a rebellious stomach) was to “put your thumb in your bum and your mind in neutral”. It’s been good to remember that advice.
I count myself one of the most fortunate people in the world. Through everything that this year has brought, Lois has been there with me. She continues to be the central character in all my life’s best stories.
What do you hope to accomplish moving forward?
Because we're the first volunteers at this site and I'm the first to be working with this farmers group, I'm hoping that even just a few of the activities that I'm involved with take root and continue after I'm gone. The biggest thing would be to see the farmers group develop as a farmer cooperative and to help them gain their Global Gap certification.
As I was about to post this blogpost about Bill, the song "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" by the Velvet Underground just happened to come on, which I found funny (and irrelevant to this entire blogpost):
"Lonesome Cowboy Bill Rides the rodeo. Ever since he was a little lad, Loves the rodeo. Bucking broncs, yeah, sipping wine, You got to see him go, And all the ten-gallon girls Love to hear him yodel "Ay-hee-ho!"
Bill, I don't know about you, the rodeo, ten-gallon girls, or your "ay-hee-ho!" (also I think you rather sip beer than wine), but I do know that I am quite happy to know you and Lois! Thanks for sharing your story and keep being the voice of reason for Group 86.
I illustrated some closing remarks from Bill:
Stayed tuned for the next edition of the "One Year Later" series.