It's National Peace Corps Week, which makes me think back on my own experience. My time in Costa Rica was powerful. I worked with PANI, the Costa Rican equivalent of child protective services. A few months before I arrived in BriBri, PANI had opened its first office in the region. Prior to this, anyone dealing with child abuse, neglect, or delinquency needed to travel two hours to the nearest office. Still, people were wary of the organization – there were rumors of child-stealing, along with the fear that those sorts of rumors brings out in people.
But years before my arrival, there had been some Peace Corps volunteers that the community had loved well. So for a while, I became the PANI spokesperson. Because people were willing to listen to what a Peace Corps volunteer had to say, they were then willing to learn how PANI could support their families and their region.
I ended up working in over 20 local communities, some of which I reached by boat and then by horseback. I created workshops and programs on violence prevention, creativity, motivation, encouraging dialogue between parents and children, preparing indigenous youth to attend mixed high schools, and using the arts to share values and perspectives.
I felt amazed and honored that, at least once a week, people ran up to say that I had taught them something that was now benefiting their family.
The most profound impact of my work was when, after teaching school groups about sexual abuse, two girls told me they had been abused. We were able to support the girls and prosecute their abusers. I felt so grateful that I was able to help these girls change their lives for the better.
The theme of Peace Corps Week 2016 is "Highlighting Happiness: What Does Happiness Look Like in My Peace Corps Country?"
Costa Ricans are known for their ability to appreciate the good in their day-to-day experience. In my experience, they are always ready to celebrate something. Even when they face challenges, most Costa Ricans I know can usually find a reason to dance, to laugh, and to create more joy in their lives.
My work with PANI dealt with challenging issues that many travelers don't think of when they visit Costa Rica. My experience with the Peace Corps taught me that all of our lives are complex. It helped me to value the hard work I do to make people's lives better. And it also helped me to appreciate the small joys we all have access to in every moment.
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.