November marks an interesting time in my service. Not only am I past the halfway mark, but projects are in full swing, ideas are flowing, and the election cycle in the United States is over. Sure, there have been many questions about the United States in general, and I keep my answers diplomatic regardless of my personal feelings. That being said, I need to be perfectly frank here: The entire world is keenly aware of what happens in the United States. The. Whole. World.
I hope to have a career that keeps me working in the international arena and with that comes more responsibility than I think people realize. I am not talking the international arena of London, Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Lisbon, Sydney. I am talking about places like Muhanga, Zaporozhye, Lilongwe, Antananarivo, Dili, and Nuku’alofa – places that do not always experience Americans in a non-tourist capacity.
What will I promote? Equality, fairness, opportunity, compassion, education, inclusion, global and cultural awareness, respect, peace, and intelligent discourse.
What will I never accept? Bigotry, hate speech, prejudice, racism, misogyny, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, sexism, violence, and intolerance.
I said on the Wednesday immediately following the election, that I was debating not going to the office that Thursday. In fact, if anything, I needed to go to the office. Now, more than ever, our American society is under a whole new microscope. For me to hide simply because I’m grossly disappointed in the outcome of an election for my country is childish and irresponsible.
Now is when I need to have open conversations about the democratic process that so few have the freedom to enjoy. Now is the time where I show my respect for the office of the President, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office. Now is the time that I take extra care to provide an example of what Americans are, despite what people might see and hear on TV. Wednesday morning, I said I was embarrassed – that is false. I will never be embarrassed to be an American. It is who I am and who I always will be. What I am is disappointed, but I’ll live.
I fought back tears while originally writing this, not because I was sad. They were because of the pride I have for the opportunity to represent my country abroad in a way that few will ever be able to. The job I have is a privilege specifically because of our democratic process, not in spite of it. I do not agree with the election results, but I also have the freedom to say that – something many do not.
I was in the office on Thursday. I shared tea and bread with my colleagues as we do every morning. We discussed the election results and I spoke more diplomatically than I think they were expecting. We had, and will continue to have, open conversations about the global impacts. We will continue to strive to benefit those that we are serving. Election 2016 does not define me any more than any election does. It may impact me because I am an American citizen, but it does not dictate who I am.
My work defines me. My family and friends define me. My Peace Corps service defines me. I wouldn’t trade any of that for a single vote. In any election. Ever. Now, it’s time to do work. Here’s what I have planned…
- A permaculture garden project in two local communities: Rongi and Kiyumba. We will bring in the local Chiefs, Agronomists, and primary Community Health Workers and focus more on the nutritional components.
- We are currently implementing a project with UNICEF and plan to incorporate permaculture gardening as well.
- Now that the new gardening and food security components are an area of intervention, we need to really streamline the monitoring and evaluation objectives for future projects.
- Help to plan and organize a bike ride project, “Girls Can,” with some amazing female volunteers to promote gender equality.
- Introduce a locally made, simple water filtration method to repurpose water during dry seasons.
- Finish developing a Survival Guide for Response Volunteers with help from Peace Corps Rwanda staff.
- Record audio language files for pre-departure materials.
- Create a Business skills workshop for Burundian Refugees in Mahama Camp on the Tanzanian border.
- One last, yet to be determined, project proposal.
I learned a lesson about 10 years ago: to stop focusing so much time and energy on things out of my control. Attempting to change what cannot leads to frustration and defeat. I will, instead, invest myself in promoting tolerance, change, and respect…wherever I am.