It has been awhile since I’ve written an entry to this blog. I am not the best at writing regularly. I guess that is because foremost I am a photographer.
I am hoping to do a write up soon about Peter DiCampo who is an RPCV and also has been listed on Photo District News New and Emerging Photographers to watch. I’m waiting to hear back from Peter who is currently working in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire on a project funded by a Pulitzer Center Grant.
I know that there are many other returned Peace Corps volunteers who are also photographers. If you are one, or know of one who would like to be featured in this blog the please contact me.
Today is the birthday of Peace Corps. This is President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961:
I have today signed an Executive Order providing for the establishment of a Peace Corps on a temporary pilot basis. I am also sending to Congress a message proposing authorization of a permanent Peace Corps. This Corps will be a pool of trained American men and women sent overseas by the U.S. Government or through private institutions and organizations to help foreign countries meet their urgent needs for skilled manpower.
It is our hope to have 500 or more people in the field by the end of the year. The initial reactions to the Peace Corps proposal are convincing proof that we have, in this country, an immense reservoir of such men and women–anxious to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress…
I have spent much of today reading thoughts of others about Peace Corps. The Peace Corps experience is so difficult to succinctly describe because it is so different for everyone. Current Botswana PCV Ross Szabo has an excellent blog on the Huffington Post today titled “International Peace Corps Day: What It’s Really Like To Serve”. http://tinyurl.com/7v73h2v. I especially like the final paragraph of his essay:
For me being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a mixture of having no expectations and being completely fulfilled. Each person’s experience seems to be truly unique depending on the country they are placed in, where they live, the jobs they have and the people they meet. The best way to find out about Peace Corps service is to do it!
I agree entirely that the best way is to do it. Having photographed other volunteers I can attest that even though there are things in common amongst every Peace Corps experience, there is also a whole lot of differences. Peace Corps as an experience is filled with dichotomy. On the one hand it can be the most exciting and thrilling experience you have ever had. On the other it can also be the most lonely, boring and scary experience. As a Peace Corps volunteer I experienced such a wide array of emotions and experiences. However, even on my worse days, days that I was full of self doubt and questing everything … days that I was sick and in pain … I could still look at it all from outside myself and think “Wow, I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer!”.
Often in retelling the tales of Peace Corps service we RPCVs stick to either telling the triumphs or the tragedies. We often leave out the mundane and boring parts, which often is a large chunk of it. However, all that down time we had as Peace Corps volunteers often was the incubator for what we were to become later. Think of all the books read and ideas hatched by PCVs because they had time on their hands unencumbered by the things that would fill our spare time back in the U.S.
In completing my book documenting volunteers around the world I tried to show the wide range of what it is really like to be a volunteer. I took pictures of volunteers waiting and waiting and waiting to have a meeting with an agency official. I photographed volunteers at work and in their leisure activities. I photographed volunteers on public transportation. I photographed volunteers partying. My book includes photos of volunteers with big smiles on their faces enjoying the moment. There are also expressions of frustration as volunteers face the many challenges. To me that is what Peace Corps is all about: the roller coaster of experiences and emotions as each individual volunteer navigates life in a different culture while attempting to fulfill the three goals of Peace Corps. It is what we all share, but each in a very different way.
While traveling to complete my documentary for “Making Peace with the World” I kept a journal. The only time I keep a journal is when I am traveling. It seems to me that life is too mundane to write about when I am at home.
Here is my journal entry on this day in 2010:
Monday March 1, 2010
Cape Coast, Ghana
Editing some photos this morning. Nancy has one class on Monday and it is at noon. Last night I wrote a story for Farm World about Audra’s counterpart and farming in Mali. I think it is pretty good. Also edited those photos.
Yesterday Nancy worked on her lesson plans. Her friends from the school came over. I showed them pictures and they continue to teach me sign language. Unfortunately, I am terrible at retaining what they teach me.
The girls who come over to visit Nancy are Cecilia Appiah, 21, Mavis Obeng, 20, and Veronica Essuman, 18. I had them write down their names for me. Cecilia and Mavis are cousins.
That entry doesn’t relay anything terribly thrilling or exciting, but it does tell about an experience that I would not have had if it were not for Peace Corps. Nancy is the PCV who was my hostess and subject in Ghana. She taught art at the Cape Coast School for the Deaf in Ghana. It was a wonderful experience being able to get to know here and her students. Nancy, who is an older volunteer with much life experience, told me that Peace Corps is her greatest experience. It was for me too. I am thankful that on this day in 1961 JFK created Peace Corps. I don’t think you can quantify the number of people that have been positively affected by Peace Corps.
Finally, I want to encourage everyone to go to my facebook page for my book, “like” it, and share it with others https://www.facebook.com/MPWTW. I have posted many wonderful outtakes from my time traveling around the world photographing Peace Corps volunteers, and I will continue to post photos there. I miss spending my time photographing the work of volunteers.