On Monday I had my last official site visit with Peace Corps staff at my NGO in Gabane. My Program Manager and Training Assistant came out to the village to meet with me and the staff to discuss my work and my contributions to the NGO. Traditionally, this meeting is conducted in three parts: one where I meet with PC staff by myself to discuss issues I have had, another where the NGO staff meet with PC staff alone, and finally all of us as one. We opted, however, to do the entire meeting together because we feel that our relationship allows for openness, honesty, and transparency and didn't need the "secret meetings". I am grateful that we decided this way because it allowed me to hear the sentiments of the women I have been working with for so long.
Although the ladies and I are not shy about sharing our feelings and often compliment each other on jobs well done, they said some of the nicest things to the Peace Corps staff about me - things that I hadn't even realized I had helped them with. For example, our Center Coordinator told Peace Corps that, before I came, they had never worked off of a plan and just did things day-to-day. She said that, when discussing the work that we have to do, I am always saying "lets make a plan" so now they know how important it is to do that and they feel they are able to accomplish more because of it. (I didn't even realize I say "lets make a plan" so much, let alone that it had a positive impact on them!) She also said that I am the best teacher they have ever had. This is a huge compliment as she's a teacher herself with over thirty years experience in the field! She went on to justify this statement by saying that I explain things in a way that highlights their strengths so they feel confident and like they can succeed, that they can always feel my love for them, and that they feel encouraged to try harder and accomplish more on their own than they ever thought possible before because of this.
Hearing their kind words made me feel so great about my service in a way that I cannot yet articulate clearly. All I can say is this: when asked by Peace Corps staff at the onset of the meeting, before the ladies were even asked anything yet, what I felt has been my greatest accomplishment of my service, I told them that "...There are many tangible projects and things I can point to that define my service but what I feel most proud of is the confidence and skills developed by the ladies I work with. Their passion and dedication to the organization was always evident but they are also strong and capable and are finally seeing it for themselves and putting their knowledge to use to help so many people. If I helped them get to this point in some way then I feel that is my biggest accomplishment. They are more than colleagues - they are my family and friends here - and watching them succeed has been more meaningful than I could have ever hoped for."
The things they said that followed my statement bring more profundity, depth, and value to my service. For the first time in my professional career, I genuinely feel like I have made a difference. And that difference goes deeper than in the workplace because it is about the people. It is a change that is profound in me, in the lives of those I have worked with, and in this whole experience. I will carry this with me forever.