Name: Jessica Vig
Country of Service: South Africa, 2007-2009
Assignment: Community Health
Recruitment Territory: Downstate and Western Illinois
My husband, Paul, and I served as a married couple in a small, rural community in South Africa. As we returned to the U.S., hoping to share our stories with family and friends back home, we found that photographs provided a medium to discuss our joys and challenges.
Here is a ‘snippet’ of our service—themes, learnings, and ultimately, human to human connections—through pictures.
“Just say yes”
Prior to entering Peace Corps, we had been given the advice to “just say yes.” This simple response to request for our participation/assistance/thoughts/support proved to be one of the most rewarding ways to meet people on new adventures in South Africa. It opened up friendships and collaborations that we never would have imagined had we responded “sorry, too busy/not interested” and stayed at home. Agreeing to teach an elementary class on science and technology when an educator suddenly resigned was notable in this regard.
Sharing in the things that South African’s love
People love to share their passions and enjoyments with others. Embracing that as a volunteer and being eager to genuinely inquire about other people’s lives introduced us to the world of rugby, pap, and the magic of the bushveld.
Sharing things we love with South Africans
It can be difficult sometimes to describe in words what it is we miss about home when serving. We found that letting others taste home was a fabulous way to share our lives and enjoyments with others. And who can pass up delicious delicacies such as homemade chocolate chip cookies or enchiladas with guacamole?!
Central to success as a Peace Corps Volunteer is a commitment to mentorship. Both to mentor others and to allow oneself to be mentored by friends and colleagues throughout one’s service. Working at our communities’ Higher Primary and Lower Primary schools provided the space for both of these experiences with our students and our teachers. Friendship, laughter, exploration, experimentation, excitement and accomplishment all come from entering into a new adventure with a mentor/mentee attitude that encourages you to be both simultaneously.
Many moments in Peace Corps fit the ‘expect the unexpected’ cliché, but one thing we came to appreciate most were unexpected opportunities – for new adventure, new friends, new work. Being runners, we had struggled to keep a regular regimen in our community, until we found out about a half-marathon fundraiser that supports a continuing Peace Corps project in South Africa! Not only did this provide needed motivation to redouble our running efforts, but also allowed us to support other volunteers and begin to think creatively about ways to support our own community projects.
Working with youth is a constant lesson in discovery – about oneself as well as the people and world around you. For the young girls in the Palala North Girls Club, their introduction to fetal development through the use of life-size fetal models opened up the world of womanhood and motherhood in a way that was not possible in their education before. Peace Corps makes possible these opportunities through support of creative volunteer projects, and this impact can never be fully measured.
We collect art. This was a habit before Peace Corps, but was taken to a whole new level with the incredible craftsmanship in woodworking and painting in South Africa. Yet what we came to appreciate most is how art, for those artists we encountered in South Africa, is both a livelihood and a reflection of their experience of the beauty and wonder their country offers them. Supporting local artists allowed us an insight into a different medium of telling South Africa’s stories and provided us with a few stories of our own.
It is no surprise that more than two years as a volunteer that you make many friends. Yet Peace Corps friends are different. They are colleagues, family, neighbors, local business owners – perhaps people you may never see again or pets you take home with you. Yet as a volunteer seeking new acquaintances it is often the case that you end up sharing more about/of yourself with people, and they with you. Connections run deep, even after short encounters, and last longer than most other relationships. Continuous communication is not necessary for each person to know that the other holds him or her in a special place reserved for those who mean the most in life.
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