On my previous post “Finding my way through Service” (on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20140917151341-42414239-finding-my-way-through-service?trk=mp-reader-card) a reader commented and his comments again brought me to reflection. His comments were centered around the fact that my time abroad working/ volunteering has not helped anyone except me. The reader discussed his interactions with Peace Corps volunteers over the past several years; and how he did not see much good or development coming out of such organizations. I reminded the reader that development is not always tangible. Development can occur with knowledge and resource sharing. Human resources are often overlooked when we think about development. Nonetheless, his comments made me reflect if there has been an impact due to my presence in the developing country in which I reside (Burkina Faso). As it turns out I didn’t have to look nor reflect so far or so long before the answer surfaced.
Many of you may not know, but usually when Peace Volunteers enter into a country, we are placed with host families. These families are an important if not obligatory part of the program. The host families help integrate the volunteer, and serves as a support among other things. In my situation I forged a great and lasting relationship with my host family. We shared many great and some sad experiences together. However, the most remarkable of my time with the host family were the days and nights we were able to have “causerie” (chats/ dialogue). It was during that time that I shared my experiences of school, and forging through tough times in my education. It was during that time that my host brothers and sisters shared their frustrations with the education system in Burkina. It was during that time that we shared notes on similar life experiences as a student. It was during that time in which we learned from one another. However, I think what was most remarkable to them was the will I showed to be successful in the harsh conditions. To endure a heat that was unimaginable to me, along with all the other uncertainties was something that stuck in their minds. There was one host brother at the time who was not in school and was trying to make his way working. I had many conversations with him regarding education and its importance. I listened to him as he reminisced about being in school when he was younger. I had no idea the impact our conversations would have on him in the near future.
About a year and a half ago, the same host brother that was out of school called me saying that he saw me on television presenting graduation diplomas. The university is called CFPREM International and I was asked to be a visiting professor/ collaborator where I perform different activities such as judging English competitions, providing career counseling, and lecture. Based on what my host brother saw on television, he went to the university and there he saw a photo of me with some of the professors. He did his research on the different programs and eventually enrolled. On October 11 I was asked to once again present diplomas at the CFPREM International graduation. When I arrived I saw my host brother dressed in his graduation regalia. But what I didn’t know was that he was not just a regular student graduating. It was during the course of the graduation ceremony that I learned that my host brother was not only the class president, but also valedictorian. He graduated at the top of his class, and won so many awards that at one point when the announcer called his name he was shocked that it was him again. He received a scholarship to continue his studies, and an offer of employment. He later told me as we were taking photos that our conversations served as an inspiration. He stated that no one else spoke to him about the real importance of education. Lastly, he stated that sharing my experiences of also struggling as a student in America helped him realize you can still be successful even in the face of challenges. All he needed was a push, a story different but same as his own, and a physical example plus his will.
When I think about development, and especially my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is the human relationships that come to mind. Unwittingly my presence in this country has put a lasting effect on someone and many others just as they have put a lasting effect on me. What my host brother has gained is beyond development as he can start to break a generational cycle of poverty. The implications of his actions will be felt for generations to come.