Tara Mason’s story:
World map project with 7th graders.
Ten years ago, I sold my car, stored all my belongs and said goodbye for two years to my friends and family to embark on what would end up being the hardest, most rewarding experience of my life. I joined the United States Peace Corps as a Health Promotion Officer in the Fiji Islands. The country was beautiful – a place many vacation, but also a country full of people who are yearning for help. My life was very different from in the US. I walked to work every day, sat on the floor at most people’s home because no one had furniture, had an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit in my yard (papaya, eggplant, passion fruit, lemons, beans), had no AC or hot water. It was quite an adjustment. However, stepping outside my comfort zone and living among different cultures was eye-opening and just what I needed to jump start my career.
Students from a dental lesson.
My work there focused on HIV/AIDS education and outreach. I also worked on projects involving dental education, physical geography, water quality upgrading, and life skills training. Peace Corps helped me prepare for work in the Public Health field. It helped me prepare and learn how to empathize with the underserved population here in Fayette County.
February 26-March 3 is Peace Corps week. We take this time to celebrate all the ways volunteers have made a difference at home and abroad. If this interests you, I highly recommend you read more and maybe one day you will join too.
Cooking okra with coconut milk on a kerosene stove.
Lynnsey McGarrh’s story:
Sightseeing in Imbabura, Ecuador.
Like my colleague, I too, joined the Peace Corps ten years ago; packing up my belongings, selling my car, and saying goodbye to the people who were my life and my comfort zone. What I know now is that I was also saying goodbye to my language, my culture, and everything I had ever known. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. There were days I didn’t think I could spend one more day in a foreign land, but in the end, the worldview I gained was more valuable than my unreasonable longing for Fazoli’s.
I served two years in Quito, Ecuador in the Youth and Families Program. I worked at a youth rehabilitation center for homeless children. I took them to school, helped with their homework, and let them beat me at soccer. I later became the head English teacher at a local high school and worked with local sex workers at my community’s Centro De Salud (health department).
Kids from the rehab center in Quito, Ecuador.
It was the hardest, most rewarding experience of my life and I’ve got tons of stories if anyone ever wants to listen to me talk for hours on end. I could tell you about the time I almost drowned in a river in the Amazon, or the time I swam with phytoplankton on a black sand beach in Mompiche. And, I could tell you about the time I found my common humanity with a mother I could barely communicate with as I held her in my arms after her son passed from cancer.
I could tell you so much. In honor of Peace Corps week, it would be my honor to continue to fulfill my life long duty as a Peace Corps volunteer by helping to “promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.”