The Webster dictionary writes that the definition of resilience is “the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.” I understand that this is a scientific definition, but it is not far off when applying the word “resilience” to service in the Peace Corps.
I came into Peace Corps three weeks out of college not unlike many of you, with ideas that I was going to change the world and leave my mark. I dreamed of a family abroad and of a community waiting to work hard. What I found in Year One was a test to stay positive!
The laundry list goes something like this… I have moved host families three times, and I was violently robbed, which led to depression and paranoia, which led to a Medivac. I had a parasite for 6 months causing over 50 pounds of rapid weight loss. Work did not exist, so most recently I packed up my belongings and embarked on a journey over 12 hours to move sites, only to get to the new town unexpectedly homeless. In my opinion “pulled, stretched, pressed, and bent” would be a pretty accurate description of the first half of my service.
So how do you “return to its original shape”? You decide to be resilient. I decided to be resilient. Staying positive is a choice that we have the agency to make. Seeking support from Peace Corps staff and other volunteers, exercising, reading, dancing… whatever it is, we have the resources to fuel positive energy.
I decided to start small. It started something like this; “Today I am thankful for the woman who sells bananas. The greeting of “amiguita” when I walk up to her stand and the free banana she sneaks into my bag as she whispers, “so you’ll keep coming back.”
It eventually grew to this, “Today I am grateful for being given a desk in the office of Desarrollo Económico on my third day in the new site.” In the little over two months I have been in my new site I have completed a Youth Entrepreneurship class with over 40 high school seniors, started business consulting with a restaurant, promoted community banks with nine different Vaso de Leche groups, and implemented a reading club with the most adorable group of primaria kids.
For the first year of service the hardest part was waking up every morning and deciding it was worth it to stay. Now two months into year two the hardest part of service is watching the calendar get closer and closer to COS and thinking about how much I still want to get done!
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” –Steve Maraboli