A couple weeks ago, I was traveling in Albania. I was given the opportunity to have dinner with three Peace Corps Volunteers. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
I would like to say that I am not one of those returned peace corp volunteers who absolutely must talk to any current peace corps volunteer and validate themselves by telling said peace corps volunteer the story of “once when I was a peace corps volunteer in Moldova”. Sadly, I am that person. But, I will not apologize for this.
I loved my time as a peace corps volunteer. My 2.5 years in Moldova changed me. I carry the love I have for my kids and my memories of my time there with me all the time.
The volunteers I had dinner with in Albania were concerned that they weren’t making a difference. Sure, they enjoyed their time. Sure, they were active in their communities. But, did any of it really matter?
The sad truth is that most volunteers never see the impact they make. Most of the big changes don’t appear until years later. This is especially true for people who work with kids.
As a volunteer, it is not just what you do, it is who you are. You are a role model. You might be there first gay person a villager knows. You might be a woman in a position in power who has valued education and held off having a family. You might be the person who throws garbage in the trash as opposed to on the ground. As a volunteer, you are like a fish in a fishbowl, always being watched.
I left Moldova in 2004. My youngest students are now 15! My oldest are now 26! For years, I have wondered about them. Where are they? Are they safe? Did they go to college? Did they get trafficked? Do they have children of their own?
Most volunteers never know.
Technology, however, is an amazing thing. Facebook! My students have started to find me. I have started to find them. Each interaction chokes me up. Each of them who has made contact, has had me swell with pride. Each photo brings back thousands of memories.
Over and over my students have told me that I changed their life and that they love me. I wish they knew that they changed my life. And that I love them.