Monday, December 04, 2006

Peace Corps

What can you learn if you spend some time in Tanzania, working in AIDS/HIV education?

Jen settles in to watch a DVD with friends

Jen is a Community Health Volunteer working in HIV/AIDS Prevention Education with a focus on children and youth. She is based in Newala, Tanzania. She works for US Peace Corps and her placement goes from June 2005 to August 2007.

You can get a taste of her experience at her blog.

On her 26th birthday, she reflected on what she had learnt in the previous 12 months. Here are her thoughts.

That I hate ants. That monkeys bite. That it’s better to be 5 minutes late than to rush past a good friend on the street. That one person’s trash truly IS another person’s treasure. That the moon is even better than a flashlight. That eating new foods, speaking a strange language, and dressing differently hasn’t changed me... but that something has. That I CAN live without cheese. That talking is easy... and that action is difficult... and that behavior change can sometimes seem impossible. That running water is an unattainable luxury for most of the world’s population. That I somehow enjoy mountain-biking in a skirt. That there are always people you can trust, and always people you cannot... and that you will always struggle to tell the difference. That having “no money” is a very relative term. That tampons don't burn. That people are dying... more of them than I ever imagined when I lived in Connecticut. That sometimes you can trust a child more than you can trust her parents. That I am lucky. That my grandmother’s friends listen much better than most folks out there. That I am privileged. That Imani likes to eat baby chickens, even though her mom is still a vegetarian. That I am loved. That Africa can be COLD. That going easy on people doesn't help them to realize their mistakes... and that being too hard on them doesn't make them want to right their wrongs. That polygamous marriages aren’t all bad. That palm wine tasts better than millet beer. That hunger and need can drive people to do things that you never thought they would. That it isn’t too hard to make your own pizza. That a warm bucket bath is much better than a cold shower. That changing the world is a slow process. Just that an ordinary life will never be tolerated.

What an astonishing life she is living. I suspect that the best thing that parents in First World countries can do for their children is to give them early life experiences in one of the countries where life is a struggle. You can visit with them, or send them to stay for a few weeks. Wealthy schools can offer group travel that has the ultimate reward of giving to others rather than merely receiving a tourist experience.

The School of St Jude accepts visitors as individuals or in groups. Visit their website for details.

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