Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Meaning of Success

The two days that Peace Corps trainees spend in Washington is known as “Staging.” Within those days, we met the motivated individuals who would be joining us on this adventure and with them, participated in activities to begin to prepare us for two years of service. We received a manual with these activities – sort of like a welcome packet to the Peace Corps.

In cleaning out my room to leave Laraos, I found my staging packet and read what I had written two years ago, before all of my successes and failures, my experiences, my life lessons – before coming to know what the whole “Peace Corps experience” was really all about.

In my staging manual from 2010 there was an activity to complete the following sentences:

I have chosen to commit to the Peace Corps at this time in my life because…


I will feel successful as a Volunteer when…

The idea of these questions was to put on paper what we had in our minds from the beginning so that when we inevitably had doubts as to what the heck we were doing in this town and when we felt unsuccessful as volunteers, we could reference our previous thoughts as affirmations. I was kind of surprised at what I had written. To the first one I responded:  

I have chosen to commit to the Peace Corps at this time in my life because…

I have the skills needed and an altruistic servant’s heart. This is where I feel called to be, needed and where I feel I can make a difference and serve my country and others.

And for the second:

I will feel successful as a Volunteer when…

I integrate in to my community and am trusted to handle a need of the community.

When I say that I found this, it should be clear that I didn’t read it at all in the last two years. It didn’t help me through any tough times or re-affirm my successes. But reading it now, at the end of my service, it is certainly helping me to feel successful as a volunteer.  If I was only looking for two things out of my service, it was to become a member of my community and one that was trusted to help with a development issue in the community.

I look back on the last two years and I can confidently say that I became a “well-integrated” part of my community. By the end of this year, I was a sought-after member on the pick-up volleyball teams, dancing in full traditional dress in the town party (see photo), welcome in the teachers’ conversations at recess, greeted by the farmers on my morning runs and an expert at spending time just sitting/sunning/chatting/knitting with the ladies as we waited for the car to come in from the city.
As for the second part of the answer; the “trusted to handle a need of the community part,” it wasn’t until my last few weeks in site that this one was fulfilled. In fact, during a lot of my service I felt completely unnecessary to Laraos and while I could offer good ideas, I didn’t feel that the authorities wanted to work with me to bring them to fruition. Time after time I saw the municipality doing great things for the environment but never once was I consulted or invited to participate in them – building a landfill, training the workers, three forestation campaigns, town clean-ups, a cloth market bag campaign (my idea, by the way) and quite a few park wildlife censuses. Never was I asked to be a part. I was great at becoming a part of my community but up until the last few weeks in site, I didn’t feel like my professional knowledge was really appreciated by my town.

Then, one day, good old Pedro Casildo, with whom I had worked on that drawn-out reforestation project in Vizcollo, told me that he had been hired as the new worker at the landfill and could I please go up one day with him and show him what needed to be done? “OF COURSE!!!!” I replied. I practically skipped home because finally someone had recognized that I wasn’t there just to be the town gringa but that I actually knew some things that would be useful to for them. A few days later I walked up to the landfill with Pedro, marveling at his physical prowess to walk the three kilometers up the mountain despite his age (76 years old).

And then we walked around the complex together and I explained what to separate out and where to put it (organics to the worm beds, plastics to the closet to then be taken to Huancayo, etc.) and I finally felt like I was doing what I had been there to do – transmit my knowledge to others. And this time, the other person had actually asked me to teach him and was actually listening! Now that might seem very small to you but to me it was huge.   

A lot of Peace Corps volunteers talk about having to redefine the term “success” in order to feel successful working in their sites. Sometimes for me a day was considered successful when I could track down one person and talk to him for five minutes. The whole day was dedicated to that one activity because some people are just impossible to find. Other days were successful because forty kids came to a movie night or because my volleyball team won. Still others were successful because I left my house and got the tía to stop calling me “gringa” and start calling me “Laurita.”
My day to day successes needed to be redefined during my Peace Corps service but in reading my staging manual I saw that I knew from the beginning what I really needed to feel successful: “to be a trusted and knowledgeable member of my community.” So this makes me wonder – can we use that as a universal goal of success? Is that one definition of success that can be applied to any and all situations? No matter where we are or what we are doing, we are in communities and if we are trusted and respected members of those communities it means we are doing something right, right? Maybe that is all we need to feel successful – the acceptance and appreciation of our [school, work, family, friends, church] communities.


1 comment:

  1. Love it! Love the definition of success you have arrived at!