The first goal of Peace Corps is for qualified Americans to bring/teach their host country counterparts skills to improve their quality of life. And we try to do that. But I think there is something far more important that Volunteers offer: their time.
Trying to get my coteacher in the room, the students settled down, and a lesson to present to them that they then successfully understand and remember feels like an impossible task most of the time. And when it does happen it’s fantastic. However, in the years that follow when I complete my service, I don’t think it’s the time in the classroom the Thai people I’ve come to know and love will remember.
The small things that make up memories are the foundations of these unlikely relationships. The endless games of uno. Answering questions about ghosts in America. Reassuring them that vampires don’t walk the streets in America (that we know of anyway). Going over spelling words until they’re able to say them in their sleep. Listening to ‘The Lion and the Mouse’ 400 million times and advising how to act certain parts out. Setting up email and facebook accounts so they can keep in touch with their recently departed homeroom teacher. Impromptu dance parties to Lady Gaga. Practicing phonics until we’re all blue in the face. Showing a favorite of mine how to use a digital camera. Home runs in kickball and I’m right there beside them giving out high fives like it’s my job. Because to me, that is more my job than anything I teach them in the classroom.
I’ve noticed, especially after the horrid month of August, the busier I am (on my own terms), the better I feel, about Thailand, Peace Corps, and myself. If I’m realistic with things, over half of these kids won’t remember the vocabulary words or the sentence structures I taught them. But the more I give them my time to their actual lives is what will truly affect both of us for years to come. That has been what puts a smile on my face at the end of the day. And not the fake one.
A quote that stirred me from one of the older RPCV’s I found in our newsletter: Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.