The truth about Peace Corps is that my community doesn’t need me. My community has been existing, functioning, and improving for generations before me, and will continue to exist, function, and improve during my short two years here and after I leave.
Maybe that seems obvious. But so many times U.S. Americans think of Peace Corps as young U.S. citizens “going out to save the world” – the white savior complex. The truth is, I left to save myself.
It’s not that I can’t make a difference. I am a firm believer in the power of footprints and I know from my own journey that it takes much less than two years to have a significant impact on the life of another. But my community already has what it needs to complete the work that I hope to accomplish over the next two years.
In the weeks before I left, in those last cold days with the snow, sleet, and ice, I spoke a lot with my mom about her Peace Corps experience, many years ago. “The truth is Rebecca,” she told me one day, “I got a lot more out of those two years than my community got out of me. And your community already has the resources. But you can help because you have the time and energy to focus on those projects – you are the spark to light the fire.”
I knew what she meant those many weeks ago, but now, almost a month into living in my home for the next two years, I truly understand. Peace Corps will change my life forever, in large part because of the people I will live and work with. I may teach my people how to make plant pots from old towels and cement, but they will teach me their cultures and traditions. It’s not exactly an equal trade.
So many times U.S. Americans think of Peace Corps as young U.S. citizens "going out ot save the world." The truth is, I left to save myself.
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
And the larger part of that – more than learning how to kill a chicken and make arroz con pollo or dance tipico at a baile wearing a pollera and tembleque, is the shaping and molding of a new me. Already I feel the fingers of change working, pushing there and pulling here, slowly softening the edges and forming a more generous, relaxed, and minimalist soul.
And yes, my community already has what it needs. I’ve seen it first hand over this weekend. First at the school on Saturday morning, when I showed up to help build a garden – and more than twenty parents were already there, tearing up the soil with pickaxes in the harsh, hot morning sun. And second when my host sister laid out what is needed to finish the tire park the previous Peace Corps volunteer started and then got people together to rip out the tall grass that had started growing there. My community already has resources, leaders, and hard workers.
The truth is, my community doesn’t need a gringa with blistered hands and sore muscles. But that doesn’t mean I don’t belong or that I’m here for no reason. Because the real truth is, I’m not here to save the world. I’m here to be a member of a community. I’m here to work, laugh, and live with my people, just as they have been doing for generations without me. I’m here to share my stories, and listen to theirs. I’m here to learn, teach, and play. And I’m here to save myself – because it’s impossible to grow something if you don’t plant the seed.