Peace Corps is generally a 27 month commitment. Three months of training, followed by two years of service in a community. Ya ustedes saben. Some people choose to stay a bit longer on top of that, either to finish up their projects or to start a new project entirely, sometimes even in a new site. As I hinted at in my last post, I’m choosing to extend my service. A whole 13 months. So I’ll be here until June 2015, con Dios adelante. The only other volunteer in my group who is extending a year recently called it “the bonus round,” which I really like. And in Spanish, we call it a ñapa. Basically, the ñapa is that little bit extra that you get when you’re buying something at a colmado. If you order ten pesos of cheese, the colmadero will measure it out, then slide the knife over a bit more to give you that little extra somethin’ somethin’. I like to think of my extension as a ñapa.
I live in Santo Domingo now and work in the Peace Corps office, which is quite a change from my two-room zinc house and overcrowded school in Baní. My job is Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL) for the education sector—I’m there basically to support education volunteers in their work, facilitate trainings, and make sure the education program continues to progress. I’m also the new national coordinator for PCDR’s teacher training initiative, Escojo Enseñar, which is pretty exciting. That’s the project that I enjoyed most in my site, and I am excited to take on a leadership role in it.
So, the big question: WHY did I choose to stay here for another year? There are a number of reasons, and each of them has jostled for the primary spot in the past few months. First off, I like this country. Yes, it has its problems, but so does any developing country. And I’ve found that the charms far outweigh the weaknesses, and I want to keep experiencing life here for another year. Along with that, I don’t really have anything going for me professionally in the United States, so staying here is a way to avoid being unemployed and homeless for a few months. It’s not every day you have the opportunity to live in the capital of a Caribbean country with all your needs taken care of by the U.S. government! (Although it’s going to be quite a challenge to stretch that modest volunteer stipend here in the expensive capital.)
My work during the next year is also appealing. As a PCVL, I’ll get to visit education volunteers in their communities to see how they’re doing. We have volunteers all over the country, and I look forward to seeing what kind of positive change they can make happen! My role is also “volunteer support,” a kind of vague term that basically means that other volunteers call me with any kind of questions or concerns, from project-related to personal. I know how hard this job can be sometimes, so I’m excited to be able to support those who are going through it for the first time.
As the Escojo Enseñar national coordinator, I get to head up a relatively new initiative that aims to improve teaching practices and increase teacher motivation in a school system where those two things are lacking. I believe that training better teachers is key to improving education in the country, and by reaching these teachers we in turn reach each child who is learning in their classrooms. There are three regional coordinators of the initiative as well, and we have just started planning for our regional conferences in the fall. I’m excited to see how this project develops over the next year and what part I can play in that progress.
Lastly, I’m extending as a chance to make something good out of my Peace Corps service. I can’t say I’ve had an easy time during the past two years, and I hesitate to say that I’ve been “successful” in any of my projects. So by extending for one more year with new projects, I’m trying to make my service something I can be proud of. Wish me luck!