Growing Dreams: A Peace Corps Volunteer reflects on his service in Nepal

by Teagen Barresi (Nepal 2016-18)

 

I joined the Peace Corps because I was looking for a way to serve. Simultaneously, I wanted to give myself an opportunity to grow and learn more skills. I had previously learned about food systems in the U.S., and I wanted to test what I knew about food systems in another part of the world. The Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to learn an enormous amount while working to make a positive impact in the lives of others.

I credit my aunt who served in the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands in the 1990s with inspiring me to serve. Her experience there, and the stories she told, were always in the back of my mind. It was the final push I needed to send in an application.

During my two years in Nepal, I lived and worked in a rural agricultural village. Most members of the community worked in their fields, raised livestock and occupied other niches in the local economy. Many also had family members working abroad so they could send remittances home.

Villagers were welcoming, gracious, warm and patient. I lived with a host family, and from day one was treated like a member of the family. I was always invited to family gatherings, religious festivals and ceremonies. Whether the circumstances where happy or sad, I was always included in these intimate life events.

I was assigned to work as a food security Volunteer. I worked on several projects with the local government office, the Agricultural Service Center. The primary function of this office was to provide agricultural technical support and resources to the area.

My projects included mushroom cultivation, fruit tree distribution, establishment of vegetable nursery beds and moringa tree nurseries, training in rice cultivation, fishpond management, and integrated pest management.

Collaborating with the nonprofit SeedTree in Nepal, I was able to co-administer a three-day training for Peace Corps Volunteers and community counterparts from all over the country. The project aimed to provide education as well as resources to community members who attended.

I also coordinated relations between a group called the Citizens Awareness Center and the Agricultural Service Center to help empower and organize marginalized communities. Additionally, I provided oyster mushroom trainings to the group and organized a distribution of oyster mushroom spawn.

Working with a sustainable development mindset is the highest priority for Volunteers. Sustainability requires relationship building and trust, both of which take time to achieve, especially given the challenges of communicating in a new language. In my own case, with hard work and dedication, I was able to build relationships and hold honest conversations with community members. The true value of Peace Corps Volunteers is this capacity to help people think about what is possible for their communities and help them articulate their dreams.

I am most proud of the relationships I built while abroad. The relationships with my host family and mother, the Volunteers I served with, Peace Corps Nepal staff, and all the counterparts and work partners I had the privilege to spend time with will stay with me forever.

One of the benefits from my time in the Peace Corps is my increased capacity for patience. When I was an employed college student-athlete, time was precious and everything needed to be planned and managed so I could fulfill all my obligations. Living in Nepal taught me to be patient, to understand that things don’t always go as planned. But we get up the next day and keep working towards our goal.

It’s important to go into the Peace Corps with minimal expectations. Many resources can help interested applicants find out about the service experience, but it’s important to remember that your own experience will be unique. Remain curious, embrace what makes you uncomfortable, and try to make the most out of every day. Do this and you will have an experience beyond the scope of any pre-conceived expectations.

Teagen Barresi served in the Peace Corps as a food security specialist in rural Nepal from 2016 to 2018. His work included the distribution of over 15,000 seeds across the country to establish tree nurseries in 10 communities to fight deforestation. He is currently a regional Peace Corps recruiter based in South Carolina.

 

2 Comments

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  • Teagen,

    Thank you for this very detailed description of your work. I have a question. Are you able to follow up to know how the deforestation program is going? Were the seed planted successfuly and are they still growing?

  • Your motivation and experience echoes those of my group (N-2) who served 1963-65. However, your success not only derived from your skills and preparedness, but obviously from the structure which you describe. Our group can be described as virginal.; We were the first to receive extensive language training (some of us reached FSR-4 after a subsequent two years working for USAID-Nepal. But we had almost no community structure, no job description, no training of counterparts, no GMOs or local organizations to work with. We had to wing it. Many years later we conclude that we did do some “good”, and certainly grew personally, and many became directed to life-long careers of foreign service. If we had the support similar to what you mention, we might have soared; not just inched along, creating our job as we went. The Peace Corps has come a long way, and so has the host country preparedness.
    Nicholas Ecker-Racz Glover, Vt.

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