Why Peace Corps?

With only about two months until I leave for Togo, I have had a lot of questions from friends, family, and strangers about “why Peace Corps?” There are so many reasons why I felt that Peace Corps was the right next step for me to take, but it didn’t come without a lot of struggle in the decision making process. I applied in February 2014, I was taking classes in community health and global health with my amazing Professor, who completely shaped my view of global health. I had thought about joining the Peace Corps when I joined AmeriCorps in 2011, but it requires a college degree, so while finishing up my degree, I wondered if Peace Corps was still a good plan. I knew I wanted to work in global health and everything I had learned had taught me that the only way to really understand and properly implement health equity is to work from the ground up. There are so many organizations that implement vertical development solutions that are rarely effective or sustainable, and the best way to understand sustainable development would be for me to live and work in a community to better understand their needs and health system. So I began my application, and trust me that is the easiest step of the whole process. I applied under the old system, so none of the application process is the same now. I went through the interview and background check pretty easily. I went to Togo last summer for a study abroad program that further instilled the idea that the Peace Corps was where I was meant to be. It seemed like everything was drawing me back to Togo. I accepted my official invitation in November 2014, but was still a little unsure if I would go through with it. After paying my way through school I was looking forward to feeling a little more financially secure, and then there is Taylor and the pups that I was feeling anxious to leave for two years. I continued to work my way through the paperwork I was sent and began the medical clearance. Let me tell you, medical clearance is no joke. Everything is thoroughly checked and then checked again. I had a somewhat easier process than other volunteers, but I went through many eye exams and asthma checks. The most disappointing part of this process is the medical reimbursement, which honestly wasn’t even worth paying the cost of shipping the paperwork through FedEx. However, I think of it as an investment, like school I have to put some money in to get the benefits out. It did lead me to wonder about the type of people who are able to do Peace Corps. It takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to leave your life to go make practically nothing for two years. It requires a college degree and in many cases now a master’s degree is recommended.  While I don’t think you should be allowed to do Peace Corps without these qualifications it does make me wonder about the perceptions of Americans and wealth in the communities Peace Corps live in. When I was an AmeriCorps there was a lot that I learned from living and working in a low-income community. It is easier to grasp the daily struggles and shame of living in poverty when experiencing them first hand. There is a stigma felt from cashiers and other customers when using food stamps to pay for food and you can feel the judgement if you choose to use those food stamps to buy chocolate instead of produce. I always felt the stares when I used my food stamps at Whole Foods, which is shameful that people with money feel like those on food stamps shouldn’t be allowed to eat better quality food. I felt the struggles of poverty when I thought about how little money was really on those food stamp card, considering having to feed an entire family when it barely got me through the month. I didn’t have a car the first half of AmeriCorps and I felt the struggles that families without transportation would feel when the closest store is a 7 eleven and I had to walk a half mile to Safeway. I thankfully had amazing room mates that were able to help. I understood the fear that parents with young children would feel allowing their children to play outside when gun shots were often heard from drive by shootings. There is nothing like getting the first hand experience of living in poverty to better understand hardships faced by the poor every day. Many solutions may sound like good ideas from a safe NGO office with a well stocked fridge, but without really understanding the complexities of poverty these solutions will fall short. Hence, why I feel that I need to go live in a community in a low-income country. I need to understand the complications from inadequate health access, lack of infrastructure, and uncertainty in aid organizations and political systems to be a part of sustainable change. This is not to say I am hoping to ‘save the world’, but rather to better understand it to help do my part to make someone’s life a little bit better.

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