April and Kevin in Kuna Yala, the northeast coast of Panamá

Friday, June 5, 2009

Follow Up Volunteer

Peace Corps service is only two years. At the end of two years, if you've really "done" it, you have a pretty good grasp of the language, you understand most of the culture, you're comfortable eating, getting around, and travelling, and you have a good grasp/understanding/comfort level in your community. And then, just when you are starting to feel successful, everyone wants to implement the ideas you've been mentioning, and suddenly you have tons of work to do, it is time to leave.

If, like in our case, you were a first time volunteer, the community has finally gotten a good grasp of your grasp of the language, they understand the aspects of your culture you've displayed in site, and they know what you are comfortable eating, and have finally gotten a good grasp/understanding/comfort level with the gringo in their midst and what is Peace Corps. And just when they are wanting to implement the ideas you've been mentioning and have tons of work for you to do, you leave.

The solution? A Follow Up Volunteer. New blood (for the chitra and mosquitos, quite literally). Someone who can come in and continue the work you started, hopefully picking up right where you left off. Thanks to your efforts, they shouldn't have to learn everything from scratch, won't have mention the ideas for the first time, and should be able to implement.

We will benefit from just such a Follow Up Volunteer in the island, and hopefully she will benefit from us. We've been able to arrange for host families; she should get all of our household goods at a discount (and not have to haul them out there); we're providing her a map with everyone's name, nickname, and relationship (so she'll know who are siblings, cousins, etc); we've made a list of in-progess projects and potential projects, as well as groups and people to work with; and we've made a list of all the other secrets, tips, and hard-won knowledge we've picked up in our two years here. With luck, she'll start at about the level we achieved in just the last half-year.

Allison is from California and has a strong background in environmental work. She heard about our site from the CEC (April's sector) volunteer who visited us two weeks ago and told Francisco (April's boss) that she would like to come here. (There are no couples in CEC or SAS in this group, which is ironic after our group two years ago had five couples.) She is tall apparently, which is lucky, since we built for our height and things shouldn't have to be lowered. Beyond that, we don't know much yet. She will do her Site Visit (recall ours' here) in mid-June, ironically when we are in Panama City to do our COS (Close of Service) medical appointments. Then she will swear-in on 30 June and head to site later that week, which, as you know, is right when we leave the country. So, we aren't sure yet when or how we'll meet her to chat about the island. But even if we don't, she'll have all our notes and the support of our great friends in the community who are enthusiastic about helping her get settled in. We wish her the best of luck.

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