The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sway _or_ How I Ended Up Still in Africa

A lot has changed in the past 12 months.

For those of you that do not know, I completed my original Peace Corps Service in November of 2012. When my training group of 71 arrived in October of 2010, none of us were truly prepared for everything we were about to go through. 25 months later, all of us had walked through a life-changing experience, but the 48 of us that remained had truly seen some amazing things.

5 of us chose to stay.

In late September of 2012, Peace Corps Rwanda's Country Director, Dr. Steve Miller, asked me to consider an extension of my service. He had joined the post in May of 2012, along with our new Director of Programming and Training, Bryan Dwyer. Over the course of Steve's first six months, he had started instituting a number of changes. He reworked the way the Volunteer Advisory Council supports and represents the Volunteer Community to Staff in addition to clarifying the role of Volunteers in development and in Rwanda. Steve was also looking at bringing on a Volunteer Leader.

Volunteer Leaders are Third Year Volunteers, that is, Volunteers that have finished their traditional service and chosen to extend for an addition year to help the post with matters somewhere between what Volunteers do and what Staff do. Traditionally, Volunteer Leaders help support the Volunteer Community by not only acting as a go-between from Staff to Volunteers (and vice versa), but also in serving as the first-line of defense in Volunteer support. From fielding questions about how to get around the country to welcoming new Trainees and finding ways to improve the ability of Volunteers to serve, Volunteer Leaders provide highly relevant experience and dedication to an organization that traditionally has a hard time keeping up with the innovations of the modern age and the capabilities of its Volunteers.

Dr. Miller's proposal was that I extend as a Volunteer Leader with 2 main scopes of work. He wanted me to serve as that front line of support to Volunteers, thereby providing a person who worked in the Peace Corps office, but was still a Volunteer and could relate to and understand both Volunteers and Staff, removing some of the burden off of Staff who have been spending considerable time on support issues that were outside of their job descriptions. He also wanted me to use my knowledge of technology, both in Rwanda and back home, to help reinvent the way Peace Corps Rwanda uses technologies and integrate more of their use into the life and service of the Volunteer. They even let me pick my own title; Technology Integration Coordinator.

So I was offered a position that basically allowed me to identify defunct pieces of our post and fix them, in addition to helping my fellow Volunteers manage their services. After two years of living and serving in Rwanda, it would have been incredibly hard to pass up the opportunity to reshape the post in any way I could. I accepted the position with little hesitation. In November of 2012, instead of moving back to the United States, I moved to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. In my mind, I was still embarking on the next chapter of my life.

The realities of serving as a Volunteer Leader, just like those of serving as a Volunteer, weren't quite what I was told to expect. While it's a great idea to have a Volunteer who relates to both Volunteers and Staff, I quickly discovered that neither Staff nor Volunteers would claim me as their own. I was constantly stuck between two worlds that both created artificial and nuanced reasons to see themselves as different. The Volunteers are no longer simply my friends. They are now mostly people I helped train, people whose hands I held during their early days of service. I now have a commitment to serve them just as they have a commitment to serve their communities. They are my village, my school, my health center, my Rwanda.

In the same light, the Staff that I work with now is the same Staff from my normal service. My old Program Manager, who was my Peace Corps boss for two years, is now supposed to work with me as just another Staff member. No matter what I do or how well I do it, the Staff will always see me as a Volunteer first.

All that said, I love my job. I have free reign over what I do when, what projects I work on and who I work with on them. I have the free time to also partner with other organizations in Kigali and still continue to serve the real Rwanda, even if it is the Kigali Rwanda and not the rural Rwanda I know and love so much. On the whole, extending my service was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

But now I'm faced with the same question I was faced with a year ago. What do I do in 4 months?

My new service ends in January of 2014. This gives me 4 months to determine what I do after Peace Corps. Dr. Miller has already uttered the term 'fourth year' more than once, which is usually greeted from me by quickly plugging my ears and singing the national anthem.  While I really do love my job and Peace Corps Rwanda, it's about time to come home.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates coming your way. In the meantime, stay up to date with what's happening with the world, the Syrian Disarmament, and the Rwandan elections taking place this morning. Also, take some time to understand more about Generation Y GYPSYs, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, and the 9/11 Falling Man Photo

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