In the last few weeks, I have received a few emails and comments from friends, wondering why I’m going to Swaziland, how long I’m going, what I’ll be doing and what the Peace Corps is. It has occurred to me, that although I have been eat/sleep/breathing the Peace Corps for a year and Swaziland for the last month, that many of the people around me are new to the topic so I’d like to fill you all in 🙂
As many of you know last year I went to Kenya, on a whim. I fell in love with the country, and left with a feeling of unfinished business, and a desire to explore the continent more. With in a few weeks of returning home, I found myself searching for a reason to go back. My searches ended on the Peace Corps website.
The Peace Corps is a government agency that sends “volunteers” all over the globe. You must have a BA to be considered. The application consists of background checks, essays, interviews, medical tests, legal clearance, and a few other hoops. The average application takes 12 months to complete (mine was right on track at 11 months until my official invite). it is a long and sometimes frustrating process.
While you wait for paperwork to clear, you have no idea what part of the world you will be placed in, and you can’t request a country or even a hemisphere. you are blind to what work you will be doing, they decide all the details, loosely based on the piles of information you have given them. when you are all cleared, you receive a packet containing a location and job title. if you refuse this offer, chances are you won’t get another opportunity. so you take a leap of fate, research as much as you can, and say yes!
I recently found out i will be going to Swaziland, a small kingdom nestled in between South Africa and Mozambique. This whole country is about the size of New Jersey, and is the only remaining total monarchy left in the world- meaning… it is completely ruled by a King. The country has essentially no exports, or natural resources. Most of the population depends on donations from food banks for food, and water. This tiny kingdom has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world topping off at a startling 46%. In 2000 the UN predicted by 2020 there will be no adults left alive in the country, and they are on that track with a life expectancy of 29 years old.
I will be traveling to Swaziland as a HIV/AIDS community educator. This will be a tricky job, but i am looking forward to it. Although i have a job title, this isn’t the only thing i will be doing as a Peace Corps volunteer.
When I leave on june 2, 2011 i will be meeting other volunteers also traveling to Swaziland, at a city within the states. we will spend a day or two filling out more paperwork and getting vaccinations. We arrive in Swaziland on june 4 to begin 3 months of training, or staging. during this time we will live with a host family and spend our days studying the language (siswati) and cultural elements of the country. we will have limited access to email, and phones while in the staging process, but it will be essential to our efforts to adjust to the new country and how we can help best.
towards the end of the staging process, we will travel to our permanent placements for one week, to test the waters. we will meet our new family, and be introduced to the community will be working with for the next 2 years. if all goes well during this time, I will be sworn in, and become an official Peace Corps volunteer- therefore starting the 2 year commitment.
When i arrive at my final placement, it will be the first time since I filled out my application that i know exactly where i will be spending my time as a volunteer. only then will I know if I will have electricity, or plumbing of any kind. i will dedicate the first 3 months as a volunteer to getting to know my community. meeting people and unveiling the needs of the people, before I am able to commit to any one project.
the peace corps is an amazing program in this way. unlike my trip to Kenya, where I came back fundraising for a million different efforts, the PC believes in the idea “helping people help themselves”. I won’t go in and take over any jobs or duties, my role will be to teach people how to lead, how they can help their own people. I admire this idea, and hope I can fulfill the task. it will also make my luggage much lighter on the trip there, as I will not be taking any donations with me, apart from a few misc. items.
overall, I am very excited to get started. I am not nervous (unless I think about being nervous of NOT being nervous). I am excited about distancing myself from cellphones, computers, and technology in general. I will be happy to be able to immerse myself fully into another part of the world, which is something I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do in my travels. I will miss my family, of course, and I will welcome letters from anyone who would like to send one! I should have information on where to send it when I leave for staging.
until then… feel free to ask any questions, I would be happy to answer!