Really … what isn’t there to love about a prestigious organization that offers its citizens an opportunity to use their skills and passion for volunteerism to give something back to needing communities and to the world as a whole … all the while allowing its members to travel to and live in one out of 139 countries of the globe that you might not necessarily ever get a chance to visit on your own.
Also attractive to me was Peace Corps’ mission (established in 1961) to “promote world peace and friendship” exemplified through three simple goals: providing requesting organizations with trained men and women in particular fields; promoting a better understanding of the American people; and finally promoting a better understanding of other individuals ie host country nationals to fellow Americans.
Now if you talk to any one of the current six long-term (2+ years) volunteers presently in Antigua we will tell you that although it is an honor to serve, it is not always easy. In fact Peace Corps’ main mantra is that it’s “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” And it’s true.
As volunteers we work hard to integrate into our local communities and to provide assistance with meaningful and (hopefully) sustainable programs. But good intentions don’t always cut it. It’s the patience, openness and flexibility that many of us have come with that make it possible to accomplish the scores of tasks we are asked to carry out by our administration and in-country counterparts and varying degrees of partners.
While in Antigua, I have had a chance to be involved in countless projects from developing a drama group for youth at a local resource center and in conjunction with the Cultural Development Division’s Drama Department at Her Majesty’s Prison with over two dozen inmates; teaching remedial reading to students at the Pigotts Primary School; co-instructing CXC Theatre Arts classes at Princess Margaret; supporting various camps throughout the island (Lights On & SCI); and assisting Partners of the Americas’ (Antigua Chapter) Youth Ambassadors with an Anti-Bullying Campaign to participating in a humanitarian, educational and cultural exchange trip to South Africa with the Potter’s Youth Group. And that’s just to name a few.
During my near two years on island, I’ve been privileged to work with some incredible people in Antigua, I’d like to give them kudos, starting with Cleo Henry and Yolande Jacobs, both of Peace Corps fame — couldn’t do this without you; Theoline Croft, principal extraordinaire and the Pigotts teachers; Karen Mae-Hill, an amazing woman and sometime secret travel agent; Owen S Jackson and the House of Culture staff; Alexandrina Wong, one of the hardest working nurses on island; Eleanor Frederick, who among many continues to work tirelessly to kick HIV/AIDS to the dust; Blenis Ortiz, mi professor de la Venezuela Institute; my PHope drama club members (I miss you guys).
Special mention of course goes to my host family the Roberts aka “the Terrifics” who took me in with much gusto, and not least my fellow PCVs. There are of course many more to acknowledge but one does have a word limit to adhere to …
I believe that being a black American woman of Haitian descent as well as having been raised in NYC has facilitated greatly in my integration into Antiguan culture. This is partly why I suppose that I’ve been able to establish great relationships and get my projects off the ground.
Growing up in NYC has given me exposure to so many Caribbean people of differing backgrounds and naturally my travels to Haiti as well as other island nations have taught me to keep up a fresh and receptive way of thinking. It’s the moments that I’ve least expected that have taught me the most about relating to others and adapting to diverse cultures. And this has been especially helpful to my work here in Antigua.
Shirley Chisholm, a politician and the first African-American woman to win a seat in the United States Congress, once said that “service to others is the payment you make for your space here on Earth.”
I imagine that after 26 months of living and working outside of my comfort zone in a completely different society of which I’m used to will start to count as down payment for that “space.” So while I’m building upon and topping up, I’ll continue to remain open to whatever unique changes and influences that comes into my path.
In the meantime, I’m extremely proud to be part of a substantial legacy of Peace Corps Volunteer service in the Eastern Caribbean and more specifically, here in Antigua & Barbuda.