They say that pre-service training is the hardest and most trying time in the lifecycle of a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is a time when you are physically and mentally pushed to new limits; when you are completely out of your comfort zone; when you are challenged, trained, inspired, broken down, and made stronger; and when you find out who you really are, what you really need, and how much your perspective can change. (For example, I have learned that toilet seats are completely superfluous, as is running water, and that I truly appreciate quirkiness, zen moments, and dikgobe.) There is a rollercoaster of emotions and unlikely strangers become friends and then become family. I have felt all of these things over the last two months in Botswana. There were times when it was tough and we all grumbled at the thought of having another month or three weeks or three days of PST but I must confess that, as a whole, I have had a truly meaningful couple of months and am profoundly grateful.
As I started packing my things last night to take to my new home in Kumakwane, I felt a sense of relief mixed with somberness to be closing this mini-chapter in my Peace Corps journey. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to my host family (visiting them will indubitably hold a different dynamic) and it is strange to imagine not seeing my Bots 10 family every day or partake in Mafhikana movie nights. Fortunately, as with everything involved with Peace Corps it seems, I simultaneously felt enthused and eager for the next step.
We did it. We made it this far and can officially start “to create change”. But if there was one real lesson I got from PST, it is this: “nothing for us without us.” This lesson is especially pertinent within the context of our mission in Botswana – to make an impact and promote behavior change in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana. For this to be achieved, the people need to be engaged and recognize their role in changing their own behaviors. As Peace Corps Volunteers we aspire to change the world but, in truth, we cannot change another person’s behavior. For anything to become permanent, individuals need to take ownership over their own actions.
This same concept applies to each of us. It is important not to forget about our own needs in this quest to help the people of Botswana. We must be open to the change that occurs within ourselves, to recognize that our own behaviors and perspectives may need modifying too, and to free ourselves of the binds holding us back. This is a chance to make true, lasting, and meaningful change within us and only then can we be the type of person capable of helping others. PST started this transformation in many of us.
So, as I take my oath in a few hours, I will also vow to remain open and honest with my peers, the Batswana, and myself and I will always remember that change requires collaboration, understanding, patience, and respect (for myself and others).
Congratulations Bots 10! I am so proud to call you my family!