Thursday, February 23, 2006

Morning Sun Interview

We did an interview by email with the Pittsburg, Kansas Morning Sun (Kaelyn's hometown newspaper) in our attempt to fulfill the 3rd Goal of Peace Corps and to generate publicity for the 45th Anniversary of Peace Corps which is March 1st. We thought we would share our answers with our blog readers.

-Kaelyn and Shane

How did you come to choose entering the Peace Corps? Was this something each of you had thought of individually, or something that you decided on as a couple?

Kaelyn: One of the things that we had in common when we met was that we were both interested in pursuing the Peace Corps after we graduated. However, we both had reservations about being able to handle the difficulty of being away from friends and family for such a long period of time. As our relationship progressed we decided that we would apply to Peace Corps together as a married couple, which brings its own challenges but also ensures that you won’t be alone in the process. However, we each had our own reasons for wanting to become Peace Corps Volunteers. For me, it fell in with my interests in Community Development and International Aid. Although I am most interested in working in Non-Profit Management and Grant Writing I wanted an opportunity to first work in the field. I feel that the experience that I am gaining is important in shaping my perspective and understanding of development work.

Shane: Kaelyn and I wanted to have an adventure together. In some ways, the Peace Corps is like an intense, working honeymoon. But, instead of spending two weeks lying on the beach, we get to spend two years working and learning. I knew that the two years in the Peace Corps would provide us with the time and freedom to undertake projects, travel together, and share the experience. That was part of the reason that I wanted to apply as a couple. For myself, I wanted to live and work in another country. I also wanted to learn a new language. Along with Kaelyn, I think the Peace Corps became a real possibility when I could go with a partner. Leaving behind family and friends was difficult, but bringing along both a member of my family and a friend would make the emotional side of the Peace Corps much more bearable.

Tell me about the type of work you're engaged in, what Jamaica is like, and so on. We've had a cold snap here, and I really envy you being in a tropical place.

Kaelyn: My assignment is to be a Small Business Advisor with the Planning Department of the Portmore Municipal Council in the parish of St. Catherine. The Council is fairly new and Portmore is the first Municipality in Jamaica. Most of my work revolves around systems and capacity building. I find ways to make the office more organized and efficient and to increase their use of technology. One of my main projects so far has been to create a database for cataloging the Building Applications submitted for approval. The next step will be to train the staff in use of the database and implementing it into their current job tasks. As a secondary project I work in the Peace Corps Office in Kingston with the Small Project Assistance (SPA) Grant Program. The grant money comes from USAID and Peace Corps works in partnership with them to fund Peace Corps Volunteer’s projects in communities they are living and working in. I coordinate the committee that reviews, selects, and monitors the projects. Jamaica seems like such a small island but living here I have realized how much there is to do and how diverse the different areas of the country are. We spend most of our free time visiting other volunteers in different parishes and enjoying those areas of the country. Because we live in such an urban area (Portmore is part of the Kingston Metropolitan Area) it is really enjoyable to get away for a weekend to visit our friends in more rural areas like the cane fields in Clarendon or the Blue Mountains in St. Andrew. Of course, the beaches are great too and Hellshire Beach, famous for fried fish and festival, is nearby our house in Portmore.

Shane: I also work in the Portmore Municipal Council, with the official title of Environmental Promoter. I collaborate with Kaelyn on some of her projects, like the Building Applications database, and also do some of my own. I conduct research on the history of Portmore, traveling to the National Library to find information on historical sites in Portmore that could be turned into heritage sites to bolster tourism. The historical information is also to be used for a Development Plan, which we will both assist with. On Fridays, I tutor reading and research skills at a local high school, while teaching tennis lessons after school. Both of these activities have introduced me to Jamaican Patois, the language spoken by many Jamaicans, although they use English in formal settings. Patois has English words and some from other languages, but spoken in a different syntax and with different pronunciation. Jamaican dancehall music is very popular. It is done in Patois and usually features a heavy drum and bass with a quarter note triplet pulse. You can hear it from every taxi and from Thursday to Sunday out of large sound-systems, with speakers as tall as the people listening to them. The food is interesting, too, although we don’t indulge in the meat dishes – such as curry goat, fried chicken, and chicken foot soup – because we are vegetarian. We do like fried fish, ackee (a tree fruit from West Africa that is used in the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish) and the dozens of varieties of mangos.

Tell me what you feel about the worth of the Peace Corps, both to the people you're working with and to you. Would you recommend this experience to others? How do you feel that your experiences in the Peace Corps will influence the rest of your lives? How long are you in for? What are your plans afterward?

Kaelyn: I have really enjoyed my experience with Peace Corps thus far and I would definitely recommend it to others. However, it is important that you don’t go into Peace Corps with too many expectations. We have really tried to keep an open mind about the experience and I think if we hadn’t we could have been easily disappointed. Our situation is a lot different than one might envision in the Peace Corps; we live in a very urban area, shop at supermarkets, work in an office, and the country we live in is very familiar with American culture. We feel like we are making an impact by assisting our agency in areas they are interested in making improvements in. I feel that my experiences in Peace Corps will affect the rest of my life in many ways. I have become more patient as things always take much longer in Jamaica than you would expect them to. Also, I will definitely be more appreciative of the conveniences and freedoms of life in the States. But most importantly I have learned to see the world from a different perspective and have become more able to appreciate and understand the motivations and hurdles of those in situations different from my own. Our commitment to Peace Corps is 26 months so we will be closing our service in August 2007. After Peace Corps I am hoping to continue working with a non-profit doing community development work. And we are definitely considering doing Peace Corps again as older volunteers after retirement.

Shane: I have contributed to the office where I work by sharing my research, writing, and computer skills. The Peace Corps has been very beneficial to me, foremost by showing me how people live in the developing world. This puts my US experiences in context. Peace Corps is not for everyone. Sometimes the sites do not work out. Other times it takes six months to a year for a volunteer to get acclimated and figure out how they can contribute. Patience is definitely a virtue in the Peace Corps. But you also can’t forget that you are here to do a job and contribute. In other words, it is bad to be too patient. I would recommend the Peace Corps to people, but only if they have both the patience to figure out how to operate in another country, and the tenacity to work through the many hurdles that exist. I plan on going to law school when I return from the Peace Corps. I hope to ensure that systems work efficiently and that everyone has equal rights before the law, things which are often lacking in developing countries.

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