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.
Today I am feeling wowed by the work of GRACE Cares, which funds small-scale international community development projects. The organization also creates opportunities for intercultural exchanges among people interested in donating and volunteering on the projects and those who will benefit from the projects.
Two things fascinate me about GRACE Cares. The first is that it's founders recognize that small actions make a difference on the ground, in daily ways, to many people. So they work with locals who have vision, community connections, and the cultural understanding that can result in positive change and continued growth and well-being.
The second thing I love about this organization is that it does not just offer potential donors or volunteers the opportunity to throw money, or a few days or weeks of support, at issues such as poverty, inadequate education, or natural disasters in the hopes that they might make a difference. Rather, GRACE Cares understands that in order for intercultural interactions to result in positive, lasting change they must be reciprocal, genuine, and ideally on-going. The work that's done is built on relationships.
GRACE Cares works in many areas, including education, nutrition, literacy, and violence prevention around the world. You can get involved by donating, volunteering, fundraising and more. Learn about the details of their model, their successes, and their current projects on their website at: www.gracecares.org or on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/gracecaresvt?fref=ts.
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.