Reflecting on my past two years as a PCV, I realized I have accomplished A LOT — despite being told time and time again that I couldn’t. Although I’m an EE (English Educator), I have dedicated a huge part of my free time to projects emphasizing recycling and ecology.
I remember asking my PM (Program Manager) during MST (Mid Service Training) for a reduction of class hours for my second year so I could dedicate more time to my secondary projects. She said if I didn’t have time for my classes, then to quit the projects. I was so upset, I almost quit PC right there. She said I came here to teach English, but in reality I came here to do ecology.
When I applied to Peace Corps in 2014, the application was under an old system, where they place you in the country and program they think fits you best. As a result, I was placed in Moldova as an English teacher since I have a teaching license in English and a BA in English (as well as Sociology). So, I didn’t get to choose my program — if I could have, I would have chosen to be a COD (Community and Organization Development). Thankfully, Peace Corps has changed the application since then, and incoming volunteers are able to apply for which program they want to be in.
Despite this, I made it work. I integrated ecology into my lessons. I helped bring our pilot recycling project, “We Win When We Recycle”/”Castigam Cand Reciclam (CCR)”, to my village’s school. I converted my English club into an English Ecology Club. Students who I otherwise would not have gotten to know because they study French instead of English, I worked with on the recycling project.
When Peace Corps moved me to a new site in September 2016, I embraced it by helping youth from Riscani who’d been involved in CCR expand ecological initiatives to my new town. Elected the PCV leader of recycling and ecology by my three other site mates, I took the lead in helping to grow the new youth-led group, Tara Verde. I helped write a small grant for ecology clean ups, trainings, seminars, and a flash mob. I found a sponsor in Chisinau to support Tara Verde in becoming a national NGO and preparing for a national recycling campaign, “Hai sa Reciclam, Moldova!”/”Lets Recycle Moldova!”. I helped initiate the second round of a recycling competition, “Let’s Recycle, Riscani!”/”Hai sa Reciclam, Riscani!”. And, I made countless lasting friendships.
All this to say, I did none of this because Peace Corps asked me to. In the beginning, I had almost no support. Even my colleagues and fellow volunteers offered limited support and sometimes pushed me away when I wanted to help. But, I kept pushing. I kept trying, because this is my passion. I made my service into what I wanted it to be, despite all the obstacles in the way.
Eventually, my PM saw that I was determined to keep doing ecological projects. She never cut my hours back, so in reality I have been working 50 hour weeks when one combines teaching English, English clubs, and the various ecological projects I’m involved in, making me probably one of the most overworked volunteers in Moldova. But, I take the stress and lack of sleep with pride. And, she and her assistant have since come to visit us during some of these projects (they came to the Green Vision forum in March).
So, for anyone out there struggling with your job or school or whatever you’re doing, my message to you is that you are your best advocate, and you are the one who will make things happen. The only person ultimately stopping you is YOU. If you are passionate about something, keep pushing. Despite all odds, keep finding a way. Get creative. Think outside the box. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Let it motivate you to try harder, to find an alternative, to try it a different way, to come at it from another perspective. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t do something, because you can. You can do anything.
I have watched so many of my students and the youth I work with grow because of these projects. They have, like me, persevered and pushed forward despite obstacles. It’s contagious, this feeling of self-confidence and strength. We have not had it easy. There have been countless struggles along the way – partners who didn’t support us, organizations that practically fell apart, supplies and materials gone at the last minute, lack of space for trainings, lack of support from directors, team members going abroad to work, lack of funds, transportation trouble — but did we quit? No. We kept going, And we got stronger. We learned from our mistakes. And we are still growing.
I hope my teammates realize how amazing they are and how much they have accomplished. I had no idea we would have ever gotten this far. I never dreamed to accomplish as much as we have these past two years. But it was because, despite all odds, we continued to believe in ourselves.
So for those thinking about joining the Peace Corps, or for anyone about to do something new, don’t expect it to be easy. Expect it to be hard as shit. Expect to cry, to want to punch a wall, to want to yell at people. Expect those days where you feel like giving up. Journal, call a friend, phone home, go for a run or a walk, play music, whatever you need to do. But, get back up on your feet and keep going. No matter your program or your primary job as a volunteer or otherwise, follow your passion. Follow your heart. It will never, EVER fail you. Do the work that you love, and everything will eventually fall into place.
Those are my thoughts for today. Cheers to everyone.