You’ve been INVITED

So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written an entry in here – almost TWO months!  Jeez…I’m a slacker.  Anyway…I have lots to catch up on!

I went to Haiti a week or so ago to check out my friend, Regine’s non-profit, Lighthouse LANDS.  Haiti is a very interesting place.  It is hill after hill, mountain after mountain of beautiful countryside.  Green as green can be and the water is beautiful – I mean, it IS a tropical island for God’s sake.  But it is OH SO POOR.  There is a lot to write about my time spent there and I will get to that in another entry, but…I have big NEWS!

Last Thursday, October 30, 2014, I FINALLY RECEIVED MY PEACE CORPS INVITATION!!!!!!!!!  Only 380 days AFTER I applied, but who’s counting.  I’ve been invited and I couldn’t be more excited.  Actually…I have only recently become uber excited.  When I first received the invitation, I was actually a little pissed.  I was angry because there was a complete lack of communication from the Peace Corps since JUNE – 5 months of nothing.  I would occasionally email my Placement Officer, but she was, quite frankly, rude and not very helpful.  But I digress…I’VE BEEN INVITED, I’VE BEEN INVITED, I’VE BEEN INVITED!

To where you ask?!  MALAWI!

Africa Map - Malawi

Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa because of the warmth of its people.  I can’t wait to see for myself!

xoxo,
M

Hey, Hey…Haiti?

At this point, it’s been 355 days since I submitted my application to join the United States Peace Corps.  THREE HUNDRED, FIFTY-FIVE DAYS.  Through blogs I’ve been reading and Facebook groups I’ve joined, there are people who applied the same time as me and have been in their country of service since June…of THIS YEAR.  I’ve also seen people that applied in April of 2014 already receive their invitation.  It’s been a little disheartening, and has caused me to start questioning if the Peace Corps is really what I would like to do.

Could I make myself happy here in Raleigh, continuing to work my Corporate America job?  Should I look into going back to school for my Masters in something (more than likely NOT business)?  If I didn’t do the Peace Corps or something like it, would I be ok with that?  I had all these questions, but I had no answers.  I kept thinking about how I believed doing something like the Peace Corps was my calling.  What would God want me to do?  Would God be upset if I retreated?

Wanting to get some advice from a person in the Church and a friend, I started drafting an email to a woman named Regine.  Regine was a pastor at the Church I have been attending and am a member of.  She is truly a wonderful person, someone I trust, and my soul sister.  I knew I could ask her any questions about “callings”, God, etc., and she provide me with her honest and well-educated opinion.  Well, before I could send my email to her, she sent one to me.

But let me back up for a minute.  Regine and most of her family are originally from Haiti.  They moved to New Jersey 20+ years ago, but they still have family that lived in Jeremie, Haiti and a few people that live(d) in Port-Au-Prince.  When the huge earthquake happened a couple of years ago (2010), one of Regine’s aunts died.  To honor their Aunt and help the people of country, Regine and her family started Lighthouse LANDS (Learning Agricultural Network for Development Sustainability).  The vision of Lighthouse LANDs is to educate, equip, and train women in sustainable farming solutions.  The hope is here is that by training the women to grow their own food, they can help alleviate hunger for their family and community.

As I mentioned, Regine was a pastor at my Church, White Plains United Methodist.  That is how we got to know one another.  Well, in January 2014, the church was downsizing and Regine’s position, as an associate pastor, was being eliminated.  I was devastated.  She was my Methodist guru, my soul sister.  As cliche as it may sound, she was the person who was helping me out of the dark and helping me realize my calling.  Even though I (and our entire Church congregation) was devastated and concerned about where our beloved pastor would go, Regine had bigger plans.  Regine was going to take on the Executive Director position of Lighthouse LANDS in order to get more traction and move the organization along.

So, now that you are caught up…before I could send an email asking my friend for advice, she sent me one.  Regine knew of my passion/calling and knew I applied to the Peace Corps hoping to receive an invite to a country in Africa.  In her email she asked how the process was going especially with the Ebola outbreak, etc.  She also asked if I thought the Peace Corps would send me down to Haiti because she could use me on the ground there.

As I wrote her back, I told her of my hesitations with the Peace Corps and that I still had not received an invitation.  I mentioned to her my thoughts on returning to school and my passion for wanting to help women receive education and be sustainable on their own.  In a reply, Regine stated “this is exactly what we are doing in Haiti” and she proceeded to tell me the plan she had in mind for me:

(1) Teach English at the school her organization has taken over
(2) Start a Junior Achievement program at the school
(3) Work with the graduates of the Lighthouse LANDS program to build their own businesses
(4) Coordinate the volunteer teams coming to Jeremie, Haiti to help

WOW.  That’s all I can really say.  I couldn’t really create a more perfect job for me.

This is just the beginning.  There are still lots of questions to be asked, but to say that I’ve had a twist in fate would be a massive understatement.  Let’s see what unfolds.  I’ll keep you posted.

XOXO,
M

People are the same wherever you go

Today, I came across an article from the Huffington Post titled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Traveling.  I loved reading every line because it is so true.  Here’s what the author learned:

(1)  It’s the people, stupid.
Essentially, all those great beaches, monuments and historic sites are wonderful; however, getting in with the locals and learning about their day to day life is what it’s all about.  I’ll never forget my trip to Burkina Faso in July 2012.  There are some things about that trip I would change (mostly who I went there for).  But regardless of some of the crap I dealt with from my American “friend”, it was still the BEST trip I’ve ever been on.  Living in the village, getting to know the people that lived there…it was amazing and I want to do it again.  One day there, I fell off my bike (no thanks to my stupid “friend”) and scraped up my arm pretty badly.  When people in the village found out, they were very concerned – sent me pineapple, Coca Cola, and even came to check on me.  That sense of community and family, even to an outsider, was truly wonderful.  (Side note:  It was this trip that made me realize that I *could* be a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I could do this.  It’s not as scary as I imagined.)

(2)  Money does not equal happiness.
Couldn’t agree more.  To continue on the same vain as the trip I described above.  The people of Burkina Faso are very poor.  I believe Burkina is the third poorest country IN THE WORLD, yet they were happy.  They had their family and their friends, and that is all you truly need.  It’s time I, WE, all really start understanding that.

(3)  The news in the media has it wrong.
So, this one I’m still a little skeptical about (not believing everything in the media)  India is still pretty scary for a woman.  Last time I was there on a work trip, I had an uncomfortable encounter.  There was a driver that always wanted to know where me and my co-worker (also a woman) were and wanted to be the one picking us up.  Maybe this is just me being paranoid, and maybe I shouldn’t listen to the news media, but as a woman, it is not a chance I would like to take.  However, I must admit that I did not get this feeling from all the guys I met, worked, had lunch/dinner with during my time there.  Not every guy there is horrible and wants to rape you, but…

(4)   Always look deeper.
Burkina Faso is mostly a Muslim country.  Upon my arrival, not a nary (my sis would be proud of me using this very southern-country term) a soul wanted to kill me.  Nope, not nary a one.  In fact, the Muslims I met were quite pleasant and friendly.  They even said that in their village, they celebrate all holidays…the Christians celebrate the end of Ramadan with the Muslims and the Muslims celebrate Christmas with the Christians.  And they all still celebrate the days special to their indigenous religion.  You know what they told me?  They said they were all Africans first and then they were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or whatever religion they practiced.  Come on America!  Let’s get on board and stop hating one another just because of our different religious beliefs…we are all Americans after all.

(5)  People are the same wherever you go
I truly believe this and this is something I wrote about in my essays for my Peace Corps application.  At our cores, we are all the same.  We want to be healthy and happy…and we want that for our families and friends.  I’ve seen this in all the places I’ve been and even right here at home volunteering with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  And if you haven’t already, you need to like the Humans of New York page on Facebook.  The guy who runs the page, and who is an author, is on a World Tour.  So far, he’s been in Iran (I think), Uganda, Somalia, and currently is in the Ukraine.  He takes pictures of people he meets on the street and asks them a few questions about what their happiest or saddest moment has been, their greatest accomplishment, etc. and posts these stories to Facebook.  As you read them, you find yourself saying “me too”.  The article rounds out with the following, which, I think, is very perfect:

“When it comes right down to it, all of us, from Singapore schoolgirls to Namibian pygmies, want the exact same thing: happiness, well-being for our families and the right to pursue our dreams.”

So, my friends – GET OUT THERE!  Meet the World.  No reservations required (except maybe a plane ticket and a hotel)…the World is waiting for you!

xoxo,
M

Wow, Albania!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the next country I was going to research was Albania.  Even though I am currently “under consideration” for Malawi, I don’t think that is necessarily where I could end up due to my asthma.  (Albania, The Phillipines, and Namibia can accommodate Asthma, while it doesn’t appear as though Malawi can…I digress).

Albania is located in Eastern Europe and has had a pretty tumultuous past.  

albania-map

Albania-map

First declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, only to be conquered later by Italy (1939) and occupied by Germany (1943).  Then in the 60s they allied themselves with the USSR and in 1978 with China.  Finally in the 90s, I guess they were tired of the communist rule and established a multiparty democracy.  As found on the CIA website, “the transition has proven challenging as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, dilapidated infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks, and combative political opponents. Albania has made progress in its democratic development since first holding multiparty elections in 1991, but deficiencies remain”.

…but deficiencies remain…and this is where the United States Peace Corps comes in.  Peace Corps Volunteers work  in areas of Health, Community and Economic Development, and English Education.

English Education Project (TEFL) 

Volunteers serving in the English Education Project (TEFL) teach primarily in high schools throughout the country.  Most volunteers teach English as a foreign language to Albanian students as part of a regular general middle or high school program, but will have many related duties in helping both students and teachers practice using English to communicate.

Health Education Project (HE) 

The Health Education Project (HE) is linked to the Albanian health system through Directorates of Public Health and at the rural health center level. Volunteers work with their colleagues to identify priority health education issues. They help design and deliver campaigns and training to health issues often using a calendar developed by the Institute of Public Health.

Community and Organizational Development Project (COD) 

The Community and Organizational Development Project (COD) focuses volunteer placement with either a local government unit (Municipality/Commune/Regional Council) or one of a variety of different community based organizations. Examples of work assignments include a locally-based independent NGO, locally-based branches of national-level NGOs, local units of a central government institution, and local NGOs which work on cultural heritage.

I would hope that if I were to be nominated to Albania, which I highly doubt I will as Eastern Europe was not one of the places I listed for the areas I would like to go to; but if I were, I would hope they would place me in the Community and Organization Development project.  I believe I could bring a lot to the table here with my 10+ years in Finance.  But who knows what the PC is doing…all I know is I am still waiting…

And whilst I wait, I google images of Albania.  It definitely has a WOW factor.

Pogradec

Berat-albania-8583068-800-576

 

Albania on Horseback

 

Trying to keep calm while I wait…and wait…and wait some more for my PC invitation,
M

The Philippines

Um, wow.  That is all I really have to say after completing my initial, but brief research of the Philippines.  I mean, look at these photos I snagged from a tourism website:

Philippines_land palawan-island-Philippines Philippines_resorts

Isn’t it beautiful?!  Like I said…WOW.

Here is some additional information about The Philippines (WHOA – seven THOUSAND islands):

   Philippines

  •  CAPITAL CITY – Manila
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGE(S) – Filipino (Tagalog), English
  • REGIONAL LANGUAGES – Bikol, Cebuano (Bisaya), Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Pampango, Pangasinense, Waray
  • AREA (KM2) – 115,830 mi2  composing 7,107 islands
  • POPULATION – 96.71 million (2012)
  • GDP – 250.3 billion USD ‎(2012)
  • CURRENCY – Peso (PHP)

Though absolutely beautiful (and now heralded as Asia’s most overlooked paradise), the Philippines isn’t without problems.  The Peace Corps has a presence in the Philippines to help out in three major categories:  (a)  Education, (b)  Children, Youth and Family Services, and (c) Environment.

While my nomination is for the Health Sector, I would be happy to receive an invite to the Philippines in the Children, Youth and Family Services Sector (CYF).  Below is a description of what those volunteers do out in the field.  It seems pretty awesome:

Almost all CYF Volunteers engage in non-formal or formal teaching of basic literacy, which includes English reading/writing skills and basic mathematical functions. The main difference between a CYF Volunteer and an Education Volunteer has to do with the Host Agency placement. Education volunteers are placed exclusively at public schools run by the government. CYF Volunteers are placed at NGOs, LGUs, or residential centers.
Volunteers can also expect to teach life skills and staff development. Life skills development includes training in self-awareness, decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, goal setting, HIV/AIDS, and reproductive health education. CYF Volunteers act as mentors, co-teachers, and catalysts for community action. Some CYF Volunteers also coach sports or work on the development of their clients’ skills to help them learn how to gain livelihoods once they leave the protection of residential institutions. Often CYF Volunteers help lead the way in tackling previously unaddressed problems and piloting new approaches to client support and development.
A CYF Volunteer also serves as a staff and organizational development facilitator and advisor. Volunteers co-plan and co-implement staff trainings on a range of topics such as stress, anger, and time management; basic counseling; child development; behavior modification; rehabilitative techniques; and other programs that enhance the delivery of psychosocial services
Anywho…that’s all I have this evening.  Next on the list of countries to research…ALBANIA!
Keeping Calm and Waiting for my PC Invite,
M

Ini Mini Miny Mo

Ini mini miny mo, catch a rabbit by it’s toe.  If it hollers let him go, ini mini miny mo.  My Momma told me to pick the very best one, and you. Are.  It.

Anyone remember that rhyme from when you were a little kid?  I used it all the time when I was picking out what I wanted to wear to school but couldn’t make up my mind.  For each word, I would point between the two outfits I was choosing from.  Which ever outfit I landed on for the word “It” was the one I wore.  I wish the Peace Corps was that simple.  I wish I could use this rhyme to pick where I was going to spend two years and 3 months of my life.  Alas, it is not in the cards for it to be that way for me.  Bummer.

But I speculate about where I’m going all the time.  I am currently under consideration for a Health Sector position in Malawi; however, I have read that people with asthma cannot go there.  I have asthma.  I heard from another girl, with asthma, who was nominated for a March departure originally to Senegal, but because she had asthma she could not go there.  She was told she had three options:  Namibia, Albania, or the Philippines.  Last I heard, she was expecting an invitation to Namibia.

If Malawi is out and those are my three options, where would I go?  I’ve always said I wanted to go to Africa, but for some reason Namibia down’t appeal to me.  I think out of the three, I am most excited about the Philippines followed by Albania with Namibia coming in last.  Over the next couple of days, I will be doing A LOT of research on my three (maybe four options), and I’ll write a blog about each.  

I just wish I knew, for certain, where I was going that way I could stop researching everywhere and just focus on one place.  I just hope as I research and fall in love with a country, I actually get to go there.  It would be very disappointing to fall in love with Malawi, only to find out I was going to Albania or vice versa. Regardless, I can’t wait to get there, wherever “there” may be!

Big World

Trying to keep calm while I wait for my invite,
M

Afraid?

Fear:  A distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.  

I struggle with this A LOT.  I have wanted to join the Peace Corps ever since I graduated college, um, I don’t know, TEN years ago.  But you know what stopped me?   Fear.  

I was scared of so many thing…living in a third world country; cold bucket baths; being away from my family and friends; what people would think; not being able to find a job when I got back; being poor; snakes; being sexually assaulted…the list could go on and on.  For ten years, I let these fears keep me from pursuing a dream.  Fear has kept me locked away in cubicle land chained to my desk and to a pay check.  

It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that I realized what fear is:  False Evidence Appearing Real.  I have to thank Whitney Johnson for helping me learn that.  The things that were keeping me away from applying to the Peace Corps were just that – False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.).  Afraid of being away from Family and Friends?  You know the world is getting smaller everyday – they will be just a Skype call, What’sApp Text, or email away.  They aren’t going anywhere – they are still going to be your family and friends.  Bucket Baths?  Um, M – really?!  Sure, it’ll be a little awkward at first, but I’ll get used to it and, if I end up in Africa, I will probably welcome the cold water from a bucket bath instead of the warm shower I am used to here.  Snakes?  I have to say snakes are one of my biggest fears…but you know what?  They are just as scared of me as I am of them, and I bet if I leave them alone, they will surely leave me alone.  Sexual Assault?  Yes, there is a possibility that it could happen while I am in the Peace Corps, but there is also a possibility it can happen right here in the US.  I work late a lot of times and walk out to the parking deck by myself all the time.  It’s good that I have a heightened awareness, so I’ll be more cautious and aware of my surroundings, but it shouldn’t stop me from pursuing the PC.  

I have also been told that fear is a way that the Devil gets into your mind to stop you from fulfilling God’s will and plan for your life.  I very much want to live out the life God has set for me, so when these fears start creeping into my mind, I take them for exactly what they are:  Fears, not truths.

On a very few occasions, people have said that I must be fearless.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  I have a lot of fears and, at times, I am very scared; however, I refuse to let fear dictate my life.

Afraid?

Keeping calm and (still) waiting for my PC invite,
M