Saturday, May 25, 2013

On The Home Front

Dear Parents/Friends/Loved Ones* of future Peace Corps Volunteers,

It is hard to send your PCV off to work in a place that you (most likely) have never seen and know very little about. It is hard for us to leave you too.. We know that you are are worried, stressed out, want to hold us close, and probably are crying when we aren't looking. The best thing that you can do for your future volunteer as they prepare to leave is JUST BE SUPPORTIVE.. spend time together as a family.. don't nag about all of the possible bad things that could happen during your volunteers service. Yes bad things can happen anywhere. Your volunteer is doing something special.. something a lot of people wish that they had the courage to do. The best thing you can do for them is show them your support, truly. Once they get here.. write letters.. send packages... I would even suggest starting with the letter writing now!! The 3 months of training followed by the first 3 months at post ARE the hardest 6 months of service – the sooner love starts coming in from home the better. You may never see the way your volunteers face lights up when there is a letter for them in that pile at the end of a long week of training.. but believe me if you could you would send 100.

My parents lucked out in that I have a high school friend who is also serving here in Benin with me – and she started her service the year before (I am from a very small town – what are the chances of that!?!).. This gave them easy access to another parent for asking questions and sharing concerns – Not everyone has this type of luck.

So I asked them (yes I know this is a bit cheesy) if they would be willing to write some thoughts on being a Peace Corps Parent (sans all the gushy stuff – sorry dad <3)..

Here is what they came up with.

Getting approved by the Peace Corps was a long and arduous journey. The Corps does a fantastic job of making sure that the applicants have the right stuff. They make sure that the applicant it prepared physically mentally and emotionally for the adventure. That being said it is still a test of the volunteers metal in many ways that would never be guessed.

When Zoe went to college she had decided to go 3000 miles from home. It was hard for me to leave her at the dormitory and made my heart ache. I did it because it was what she wanted and I felt an obligation to help her grow and follow her path. We all missed each other and she ended up coming back after her first year to go to a University “closer” to home. This was a good learning for the whole family and helped to prepare us for her volunteering in the Peace Corps. [Note from Zoe: Transferring schools was also Peace Corps biggest qualm with my application – More so than being in a long-term relationship.. or my Vegan diet.]

Even though, you will miss your volunteer very much, and they will miss you the same. It is important to show your support as they stick through their service no matter how hard it gets at times. We tried to prepare each other for this but there are many things that you would never guess would be a problem. The hardest part of being a Peace Corps parent is when you know your child is sad, frustrated, and probably homesick... and trying to be strong for them. Just remember that you have to be strong for them. 

Zoe is about half way through her journey and one of the most difficult things that she has run into is being a foreigner. As a tourist it is for a short period and much of the time you are paying people and they are polite. As a Peace Corps Volunteer not everyone is happy to see you and since you do not speak the local languages well you are subject to insolence and the inference that you are stupid. That can be tolerated for a period but after a while it would start to wear even the strongest down. Being so far away there is nothing that you can do but listen and try to sympathize but I have to say it is hard to know your child is upset or hurting. As a side note: I now feel a greater empathy for people who do not speak English here in the US.

I am proud, as any parent should be when they have a child that wants to help others and will go so far to do just that. When Zoe's service is over next year, we will all be stronger for it and we have and will continue to be tempered by the experience. I know how difficult I am finding it and knowing that it is harder for her makes me admire her even more. Showing support and encouragement makes it easier for everyone. This will be a great learning experience not just for your volunteer but for you as well. Make the most of it.

I hope my words prove to be a strength to anyone who is reading.. whether it is because you are interested in joining the Peace Corps (or doing similar work) or if it is because your child (or loved one) is planning to start their own Peace Corps journey. Please know that it is not easy but like anything that is hard it will reap great rewards. We love our daughter and miss her so very much. I am glad that we are missing her because it means that she is in the Peace Corps and following her dreams. - SC


To be the mother of a Peace Corps Volunteer – what is that like? 

Well! Of-course I am very, very proud. When she left I packed her off with a ton of supplies, mega amounts of advice, some trepidation, endless love and hugs. Also, knowing the reality – that I'd be missing my child like crazy, constantly telling random people about Zoe, thinking of all the things we'll do together in 2014 (her plans will be a bit different!), wondering if she'll like my vegan cooking (I've had to take up cooking since she left.. she's the cook in the family), and wondering how this experience will change her. Weirdly, the time is flying by so fast. Its hard for me to believe it has been almost a year since we've seen Zoe...

As the person experiencing the Peace Corps from the “Home Front” I live for photographs (will beg for them) – so if you have the means send your volunteer with a camera!!  I constantly check FB and Benin PC blogs to maybe be rewarded with a new photo from Benin. Five stars if my PCVs face is in it! 

As the family of a PCV we are so lucky to have all this technology. If this was 20 years ago I'd be constantly stressed and worried! I'm one of the lucky parents and Zoe lives in an area that has good communication. Having an international phone plan comes in very handy and sometimes we're able to SKYPE when she has to go to the office in Cotonou but really that is usually just typing back and forth – the internet connection isn't always strong enough for video or voice. I'll take it.

Knowing that your child is trying to do good in this world and how strong they have grown to be helps you to let go a little (well maybe). Anyway--you get used to it. As a PC parent you find yourself worrying at times, you will have random moments of wishing time to go faster, but then your own routine will blessedly evolve you back into life. My own friends and family, and of course the dog have been a great support to me here – which in turn helps me to support Zoe when she is so far away.  As I said the time really does fly.

Letters and packages are incredibly important. I write her twice a week (I'm up to ninety something letters!) Do I feel she needs these letters – yes - but I need them too..They are just rambles probably saying most of the same things yet they make me feel connected to her. I know the for PCV's getting a letter or package from home means a lot.. so really letter writing is a win win for everybody. 

Reading this blog also makes me feel connected--I love it!! BUT it's not only Zoe's blog that I read! I also enjoy reading the other current Benin PCV's blogs. It gives me a more complete picture of their life in Benin. I love them all even if they don't know I'm reading about their experience. They really are a great group of people.

We are lucky enough that Zoe will be able to come home and visit this winter. This of course, might not be possible for everyone but I'm very excited about it!! --YEA!! We do not plan on going out to Benin to visit her, but recently her Erik went to visit. It was really great to hear his impressions about her village, the country, the people she knows, and to see all of the pictures he took! Five stars!!

You will you worry and fuss and miss your PCV like crazy --yes-- but you will also be incredibly proud. Much love--FC

So basically: write letters, be supportive, don't worry too much, keep yourself busy at home as well.. and the time will fly by. You will learn from this experience through your PCV. It will be awesome. 

Also EVERYONE at home read the PC “On The Home Font” book.. and they all found it very helpful. I didn't read it personally.. I don't know.


*I know this is a little "parent-child centric".. and there are all types of families and volunteers of all ages.. I think that the things said here can really apply to any one at home supporting a volunteer.. parent, child, grandparent, best friend.. aunt or uncle.. anyone. I hope it helps <3

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