Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The End Is The Next Beginning

My Peace Corps service is a story about overcoming adversity, rising to challenges, being grateful for small victories and good fortune, welcoming change, and accepting love. It was transformative in both the way I approach work and approach life. These three years have inspired me to continue living to help others and have showed me that I can make a difference through laughter, patience, grit, and determination. While my parents always told me that I could do anything, I finally believe it myself. And I do it with an overwhelming sense of love.

The work here in Botswana is not ending for me but rather is taking a different spin. While I have closed my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have recently been offered a full-time contractor position to help bring the lessons of my service to other volunteers and support them through their own transformations in order to find satisfaction in their service. So, for the next year, I will be piloting a new staff position at our post, acting as a Volunteer Support Liaison.

In addition to overseeing PCV committees, the PCVL program, and Third Year Extension Volunteers, my role as the Volunteer Support Liaison will be to offer overall support and guidance to volunteers as they face challenges throughout their service. This will be multi-faceted, acting with both the programming and training teams, but will focus primarily on helping volunteers integrate, navigate complex issues, and ultimately perform their jobs better. This is a job I believe I can do well and, with any luck, will prove to benefit our entire Peace Corps program here.

The decision to prolong my stay in Botswana for an additional six months (year in total) was made with careful consideration of many factors - family, friends, a desire to reconnect with my home country, and the potential impact here, among others. It was a hard decision and one that was not hastily made. I had to reflect and look at impact, for myself and others, in making this decision.

I believe greatly in the work Peace Corps is doing in Botswana and I feel extremely fortunate to have been chosen for a position that I believe will prove vital in assisting and enhancing the work Peace Corps Volunteers do every day. This is my chance to come full circle and fulfill the needs as best I can in every avenue I can here. It can be my last gift to Peace Corps Botswana for all the many blessings it has bestowed upon me. I will take all of the lessons of my service and impart them to the 80 new trainees who are arriving in a month and to all those serving volunteers, thereby expanding my reach (and my love for development work) across Botswana in an even more meaningful way. That, in and of itself, is an incredible opportunity. In the end, though, it was a personal decision that I think will help make the next steps in my life all the sweeter.

This next step will be the beginning of a bright and beautiful future. And, yes, one that will eventually bring me back stateside and then maybe abroad once more. For now, the ending of my Peace Corps Volunteer service is also where I start my new beginning...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Final Photo: Month 39 (June 2014)

On the 26th of June 2014, after 1,182 days as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I closed my service. This was a day full of intense emotions. It was a time to reflect and rejoice over these last three years. It was a time to be proud. Because, as our Country Director pointed out, we were now part of an elite group - RPCVs - and there are less of us than there are Fulbright Scholars.

At our COS ceremony, staff said words of thanks and encouragement to myself and the two other Bots 10s that ended their service alongside me. As the last three of our group to COS, it was a special time for us all. I was moved by the kind words that the staff shared but one staffer's words will stay with me as the most profound. He said:
"Tija, I want to thank you for showing the staff here the value of working with Peace Corps Volunteers. Before you, it was just something we said was important but now, because of the good work you have done and how much you have helped us grow and get stronger as a team, we look to volunteers in everything we do. You had a way of coming in with your positive attitude and good humor - we would laugh and that would break the ice - and then we could accomplish so much more. Thank you for showing us the great value you all have. You made that possible for us."
Wow.

So, with that, I present the final photo in this photo reflection series, taken just after we rang the bell and closed our service. The final three Bots 10s alongside the staff of Peace Corps Botswana.

The End
I will forever cherish this team and my entire service. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 38 (May 2014)

As a lover of live music, I was very excited to learn
of an international music festival in nearby Swaziland.
And, what's more, it was also a nonprofit fundraiser to
help at-risk youth. Bonus. So we traveled there (and
to Durban, SA) on what I called my "birthday trip"
to hear some of the best artists from France, Spain,
Zimbabwe, South Africa, and beyond. How amazing.
"Hello Bushfire! Bring your fire!"

The traveling companions for birthday trip 2014!
(L to R, me, Dinah, Jess, Danielle, and Hobie)


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 37 (April 2014)

Tuan had his wisdom teeth taken out in April and, due to some
complications with the surgery, was out of it for over a week.
At the same time, I was house sitting for a wonderful family and their
adorable English Bulldog named Otis. Here I captured a moment
between the two, who are truly madly and deeply in love. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 36 (March 2014)

My mom came back to Botswana!
We revisited the ladies at my previous NGO (pictured here),
as well as traversing across Botswana, South Africa, and Mozambique!
(This was also the trip when Tuan asked my mom's blessing to marry me!)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 35 (February 2014)

As a PCVL, I helped plan and execute Peace Corps Botswana's
very first All Volunteer Conference. This was such a fun event
and the only training that was unanimously voted as beneficial and fun.
I was very proud to have been a part of making this happen.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 34 (January 2014)

In  January 2014, my dear friend and
fellow (COS'd) Bots 10 sent me some loot!
It was an absolutely amazing package
and my first one in nearly two years!
HAPPY DAY!

Friday, June 20, 2014

PCVL Orientation

This was my last official week as a PCVL and no better way to cap it off than to lead an orientation for the new group!

The orientation was a few weeks in the making and the activities leading up to it included a complete overhaul of the PCVL role. This was spearheaded by myself and another PCVL with support and oversight by our post's Director of Programming and Training (DPT). We wanted to make the position more meaningful and find ways to add additional value to it and to the post through PCVL involvement. This meant meeting with program staff, admin, and the training team to see exactly how PCVLs could be of greatest use and then negotiating the new job description accordingly with the DPT and Country Director.

The big reveal happened the day before the orientation and the current PCVL team and the staff were very excited about the direction the role is taking.

The orientation was jam-packed with sessions to explain the enhanced position, with technical training and meetings with all the departments in Peace Corps to provide practical application and explanation of PCVL duties. Round-table discussions added value and we were able to unpack the position and come up with even better ideas for working together. Everyone left with renewed vigour towards the position, myself included and I only have days left!

I am really excited about the direction the PCVL role is taking and I am happy to be a part of that movement. I genuinely believe that this position, which is still fairly new at our post, is going to be one of the best that Peace Corps has to offer.

Photo Reflections: Month 33 (December 2013)

In true Botswana fashion, six months after I closed out my two years of service
in Gabane and moved to the capital, my NGO held a going away party for me.
This photo is of the support group's chairperson singing me a farewell song.
Moments later, the rest of the guests joined her and their words filled the room.
... I cried.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Photo Reflections: Month 32 (November 2013)

Movember arrived in Botswana and Tuan participated.
His moustache may go down as one of the creepiest.

I began working with my counterpart in a very meaningful way
to bring IECD programs to most at-risk communities. This is
our first meeting together to discuss scaling up the services at our
"model site" and ways to begin implementing in other rural villages.