Because today is my swearing in ceremony as an official volunteer into the United States Peace Corps, I thought it would be a good time to explain in more detail exactly what I will be doing during my 24 remaining months of service.
Peace Corps has been serving in Samoa since 1967 when the United States sent volunteers here to assist after a devastating cyclone that struck the country. Since then, there have been 81 groups of volunteers to come and serve in many different areas. I am one of 20 volunteers, from Group 82, who arrived in October to work in the School Based Community Development Program. This is a new program that Peace Corps has begun in Samoa and thus my group has the challenges and rewards that are associated with being "pioneers" of a new program.
I have just completed 9 weeks of pre-service training where I was living with the other 19 members of my group in a small village. Each volunteer was assigned to live with a host family from the village. They provided our meals and living accommodations. This was a great cultural learning experience as we were interacting with them on a daily basis. During this time we were also undergoing intense language instruction, as well as training in teaching, medical, safety, and cross-cultural issues.
The project is two pronged. First of all, I will be co-teaching with Samoan teachers in English classes in a rural primary school. During my time at the school, I will be working closely with the Samoan teachers to develop lesson plans for each class. My duties will require that I travel to different classrooms and teach at different grade levels. I have been assigned to teach at a smaller school with about 85-90 students.
Another part of the teaching component requires that I design and implement several in-service workshops for teachers to demonstrate new teaching strategies for TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). These in-service workshops won’t take place until my second year of service.
Therefore, about 20-25 hours of my work week will be devoted to teaching responsibilities. That includes classroom time, classroom preparation such as lesson planning, and any other duties such as teacher meetings or planning for in-services during the second year of service.
The second prong of my service in Samoa is a Community Development component. With this assignment, I will be working within the village to identify their local needs which will help enhance their village improve their livelihoods. Some development projects that volunteers might work on would be water tanks, homework centers, community gardens, sewing business, recycling projects etc. When I’m working with the community, I will be looking for projects which are sustainable after I leave. Peace Corps world wide has a philosophy of helping others to help themselves. I wouldn’t be much of an asset to my village if I went in and did all the work for them and then left in two years, because they wouldn’t have learned how to keep the projects going after I am gone, or be aware of how to implement new projects. Therefore, there is a large emphasis placed on us "working together." I will be devoting about 15-20 hours per week on the community development portion of my service.
In addition to both of my duties of teaching and the village development, Peace Corps in Samoa has asked us to work on health related issues. Samoa has a need for health education on topics such as washing hands, safe food preparation, nutrition and diabetes. Thus we will be working to integrate health awareness into our service projects.
During my service I will have access to many great resources. There is a great staff working at Peace Corps here in Samoa. The Country Director knows all of us and has encouraged us to ask him or any other members of the staff for assistance along the way. The Associate Peace Corps Director will also be working with us closely to make sure our projects are running smoothly. In addition, there are other members of the staff who can assist us with cultural issues that may arise, and we have a great safety and security officer and medical officer to help keep us safe and healthy.
We of course have each other to use as resources since there are 20 of us with different backgrounds and experience from all different geographic locations of the U.S. There are also dozens of other volunteers who were already in the country serving when we arrived and will be here for at least another year. Asking for their advice and assistance is a valuable resource as well and it is great to consider them friends on this exciting journey.
In order to complete our community development projects we will be working with members of our village to raise the money through different means. This may involve fund raisers or writing grants to aid donors for their assistance.
I hope this outline has given a better picture of what I have been asked to do during my time in Samoa. It will be a learning experience for myself as I make the journey. I feel I have a lot I can offer and the motivation to help make a difference. There will be tough and challenging days, but there will be those small moments which will bring me a lot of satisfaction and remind me why I’ve come here to serve. As they say in the Peace Corps, "It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love."