Name: Danny Livengood
Country of Service: Malawi, 2007-09
Recruitment Territory: Columbus, Ohio
Why did you apply to the Peace Corps?
Peace Corps offered the exact combination of experiences that I sought. First, though I said I would do anything, I was hoping for an education assignment (which I received). Teaching has been a long term passion of mine, and Peace Corps offered a special and unique opportunity as an educator. Second, there is a difference between traveling somewhere and living somewhere. When you live somewhere new, you gain insight into a new set of day to day particularities and into a different way of thinking. It’s what cross cultural immersion is truly about. Finally, volunteering with the Peace Corps promises the opportunity to be involved with capacity-building development work, an approach that focuses on helping individuals and communities help themselves.
What was a typical day like?
I woke up most mornings around 5 a.m. That probably sounds awful early, but not having electricity changes a number of habits. School started at 7 a.m., so I would have a leisurely breakfast and sit outside drinking tea most mornings, enjoying the relative cool. There would be regular commuters who would walk by my porch: first the women on their way to fetch water, then the tribe of goats being guided by a little boy who always wore the same “The Simpsons” t-shirt, and finally the folks heading out to the fields with their hoes and flip-flops. After going over my lesson plans, I would teach anywhere from three to seven classes a day. I taught 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students English (a combo course of English as a second language and English literature) and life skills (think of health class only behavior focused and on culturally pertinent topics). I had a number of different activities arranged for after school. On Mondays and Thursdays, there was volleyball practice. We had the business club on Tuesdays, on Wednesdays we had a chess club, and Fridays usually had a soccer match.
Things would wind down around 4 p.m. I would sometimes go to the market, other times visit a Peace Corps volunteer who was in the next village. I would eat dinner with my neighbors a couple nights a week. Often, I would try and cook different American foods to share with them; rosemary ended up becoming their favorite spice. Often, the teacher’s kids would come over after dinner and would help me with house projects or play games. Reading whatever I could get my hands on would fill the rest of the hours.
What was your greatest challenge?
My school wanted to build an assembly hall for the school grounds. It would be an immensely useful structure for the school to have. They had already cleared a site and made the bricks before I had gotten there, and they wanted me to help make this building a reality. We started doing the preparation work – getting blueprints drawn up, lists of materials, material cost quotes, construction quotes, time tables, etc. After six months of collecting information and prices, we found that such a project was well outside the school’s budget (even with grants). Communicating this disappointing news to my principle and fellow teachers was difficult. They were heavily motivated to get this project off the ground, but the size and scale that they deemed necessary were out of proportion to the resources they had thus far collected.
We went on to talk about what we could do with the funds at their disposal. They had a decent amount of money to work with, especially if partnered with a grant. After several sets of meetings with the village counsel, a school renovation project became the new focus. The project would involve repairing the floors and windows of the class rooms, building doors so we could close and lock up the buildings, building desks and benches so the students wouldn’t be sitting on the floor, and a dozen other repairs or improvements that would increase the quality of the facilities. That project took us the next year and a half, and I was happy to see the finishing touches being completed as I finished my service.
Search current event listings and sign up for more info to receive notices about Peace Corps events near you. Questions about life as a volunteer or the application process? Contact Danny directly at email@example.com.