Monday, November 13, 2006

11/13/06 (Day 62): Libby's Readiness to Serve Essay

Readiness to Serve Essay
By: Susan “Libby” Skolnik
Due: Monday, November 13, 2006

Exactly six months have passed since I flipped my graduation tassel from one side to the other and proudly walked off the University of Maryland Campus. My degree read “Public Policy: International Security and Economic Policy,” focused on development more specifically. The concept of development had haunted me through my years as an undergraduate Anthropology student, and even more so interwoven into each of my graduate classes; development was sexy, included in text book titles, sneakily presented on syllabi – it was a catchall for this century’s fad profession: “development work.” I was drawn to it because it was real, it represented real people and their problems, and the future that lay ahead of me… a life time career aimed at promoting the dignity of a people and their capacity to improve their own lives.

Still, though, the reality of development lay hidden behind heavy textbook hard covers, buried in theory and statistical studies, billowing around an academic palace. My options were lofty and numerous – I could write grants for big comprehensive programs intended to cure aids or alleviate hunger and poverty. But I was safe, healthy, comfortable, and surrounded by friends and family. And then, the very next day, a big packet arrived in our mailbox inviting us to join the Peace Corps in Peru. My training would be in Community Health and my job, should I choose to accept it, would be to live rurally and work within a Peruvian community to improve the quality of life of community members through the promotion of healthy lifestyle practices. We said yes, and headed off to the Arctic Ocean to contemplate life’s wonders and this new adventure before us.

In mid September, while in Staging in Washington, one of our instructors informed us that patience, flexibility, and humor would be the three most important attributes during our lives as Peace Corps volunteers. To be effective volunteers we would need to see development as focused on a long-term, sustainable, human capacity-building process in which we would undertake the varied roles of learner, trainer, co-facilitator, change agent, project co-planner, and mentor.

Now, 8 weeks through training as a Peace Corps Trainee, I have been inundated with a steady flow of knowledge, skills and attitudes that will help me to be an effective volunteer. Technical training has focused on pressing health needs in Peru, the role of the Ministry of Health, how to effectively capture the attention of community members and instigate behavior changes that challenge basic centuries-old life styles. We have discussed sustainability, the importance of stepping back and ensuring that both the ideas and the follow through derive from the community level and not from the volunteer. We have practiced the local language and lived in its culture, discussing challenging differences, and how these insights will aide us in our integration into our future community. We have learned adult education techniques, presentation and facilitation skills, methods to complete community diagnoses, participatory techniques to involve the community in our integration and understanding, and the importance of strategic planning.

But, it was yesterday, standing on a steep hillside with Mt. Huascaran, the highest mountain in the tropics, reaching into the heavens behind me, and green cultivated fields stretching in front of me down the valley, that I knew I was ready to serve. The town is Musho. I will be part of their family. I will live by their sides. I will work hard to be the nutritionist they are looking for. I am ready.