Why I am taking a leave of absence to volunteer in Vanuatu
I’ve been given the opportunity through the Peace Corps Response Program to live and work as a volunteer in Port Vila, Vanuatu for four months. I know you’re thinking, didn’t you already do the Peace Corps in Albania or something? Why yes, for two and a half years, I lived and worked in a small mountain town in northern Albania.
But this is different.
The Peace Corps has a response program for professionals with a certain skill set that could be utilized the moment they step foot in country, for an already predetermined need. In my case, the Ministry of Sports and Youth in Port Vila, Vanuatu is in need of a website and newsletter in order to provide information for the community of Port Vila, as well as positioning their department as a thought leader through out the world. Since I’m a web designer and already have the skills to build these things, I can hit the ground running once in Port Vila to begin the discovery phase of working with my counterpart.
So, once again, I’ve decided to take the jump. I broke my lease and am currently packing all of my belongings into a storage unit. I’ll park my car in my dad’s garage, and travel alone, over 8,000 miles, to live in arguably one of the most isolated countries in the world. Thankfully, I work somewhere that’s extremely progressive and is allowing me to take a leave of absence and return once my service is complete.
But why do it again?
The first time I volunteered in the Peace Corps I left the States to go work in Albania as a Community Development Volunteer. I made this 27 month commitment without ever have setting foot in Europe or having even heard of the country I was about to call home. I worked in a small mountain town who had recently experienced an influx of foreign tourists, and were in need of infrastructure.
For me, traveling outside of the States for me has never been about vacationing. It’s been about acquiring a global education. I don’t want my only perception of a country to be what I see from movies or read in the news, or even dare I say this, what I learned in school. I want to see it, taste it, and feel it for myself.
If I was asked to approve this article before getting published I would have asked them to change the title to “Albania shines a light on local grad.”
I was embraced and welcomed as family by my neighbors the entire time I lived as a foreigner in their country. I obsessively reflected back to exchange students I had encountered throughout my academic years, being made fun of for their imperfect English, going home to live with a family who wanted nothing but to make them feel comfortable but had no idea how. I was now that strange foreigner. Never the less, I was automatically taken in as one of their own, even though they knew nothing about me. I felt a type of love unlike anything else I had ever experienced. I learned how to live and work in a culture that sometimes seemed so different than my own it would make my head spin.
We failed together and then learned together. We succeeded together and celebrated together. I grew in to a more empathetic and understanding human. The work was hard and slow but I felt the richest I ever have, living off of less than five dollars a day.
Wealth has nothing to do with money.
When I told my dad I was leaving the country to volunteer again his first question was why? Why leave a good paying, career advancing job for half of a year to volunteer in a country I’ve never been to?
I’ve learned that being rich has nothing to do with the number in your bank account. When I was in Albania, I was working with the mayor of my town to create a web presence, or writing a grant to get enough basketballs to play inside during the colder months. I saw how access to sports equipment changed the attitudes of teenage boys in the dead of winter. In retrospective, the amount of satisfaction was immeasurable.
I went through rounds and rounds of revisions for a logo I designed with the mayor and Board of Directors, finally deciding on a logo that they felt represented their town the best. Side note: I went back to that town this summer for a wedding and the logo was plastered on the police vehicles, flags and the municipality. While the work I did in Albania typically went about ten times slower than it does in America, I could feel and see the impact that my work had on my community.
When I got my first apartment after landing my current job, I looked at my dad and said “I don’t deserve this.” I’d gone from sleeping on a couch, going to the bathroom in a hole, hand washing my own clothes and dishes, and refrigerating my food outside in the winter, to what felt like a luxury apartment in the middle of downtown Raleigh. Wealth has nothing to do with how nice your possessions are, but who you surround yourself with. I know, I’ve seen it.
Taking skill share to another level.
Everyone these days has accounts to skill share Lynda.com or SkillShare.com. My goal is to take that to another level. My expertise in design and my knowledge in other areas, paired with my experience working with small nonprofits in the States, Albania and Cuba, I want to level-up what skill share means. I will be sharing my skills, sure, but with sustainability being one of the hardest aspects of development work, I will also be training. One the largest misconceptions about web development is that once the product is launched, we can all wipe our hands clean and move on to the next one. A good website is never completed.
I expect taking the jump back in to development work, coming from a marketing agency, will be some type of culture shock. But CMS training will be one of the most important aspects of my time in Vanuatu.
You ask why, I ask why not?
My first experience in the Peace Corps wasn’t always easy but it with out a doubt changed my life. It opened my eyes, changed my perception, proved my adaptability and strengthened me in ways unimaginable. While it may seem like I’m going to live on a tropical island for four months to escape reality, the exact opposite is true. I’m forcing myself in to a different reality.
Allow me to share my reality as a foreigner in Vanuatu for half a year. I’ve started a Medium publication where I plan on blogging at least once a week, it’s called Volunteering in Vanuatu: A humanitarian technologist joins the Peace Corps, again.
I will post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, hopefully different content but no promises. These thoughts and pictures are mine and in no way reflect the views or opinions of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.