Thursday, March 20, 2014

In Defense of Daring to Care

            At any point in time, from the moment I type this and the second you take in reading this, someone, somewhere, is doing a heroic service to the world. More accurately, multiple people are doing multiple good deeds globally, and chances are, several of those people are Peace Corps Volunteers
Volunteers teach young girls about how easily
and invisibly HIV spreads without proper preventative care
            Peace Corps was founded in the 60s midst the Cold War as America's belief that more than wealth, security, and nationalism, that it's core foundation is in spreading a global good will of aiding humanity. John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to give up their comfortable lives for two years and serve those in disadvantaged situations, learn the meaning of hardship, and take up a cause that is just and pure. In juxtaposition of multiple proxy wars, mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union, and burgeoning materialism resulting from Post-World War 2 hegemony, the Peace Corps represented a living counterpoint to American real politick.
            I say this all now knowing that many will scoff at the near sugary coating I put of my organization, from those who do not know the Peace Corps but hate the concept of foreign aid to those who have served and have experienced extreme hardship, leaving them bitter and disillusioned.  To all of you, I want to talk about something uncomfortable, I want to talk about something that perhaps you are ashamed of feeling as I was a 21 months ago.
            I want to talk to you about idealism, and I want you to let yourself experience it.
            Take a look at the world today, the multiple wars happening among us, take a ponderance at the future ahead of us, environmental conflict not being the only crisis to likely worry about. We have a lifetime of tragedy before us, and unless you're in a position where you are being oppressed, there is something you can do about it.
            What was the difference between the generation that first joined the Peace Corps and now? Perhaps unlike growing up directly after two World Wars, we grew up after two Gulf Wars. We've grown up in a Post-Vietnam era where we actively know that the government is not necessarily always fighting against an enemy we can all rally against. Perhaps as result of seeing that developing countries post-colonialization are still developing afterwards even with the establishment of the World Bank, US AID, and the IMF, there is question of the effectiveness of altruistic reasons. Perhaps even more, having articles labeling inexperienced privileged do-gooders as "voluntourists" that focus, rather on constructive criticisms, to scrap the idea of interpersonal interaction all together, have led us to wonder if we are doing more harm than good.
            But I can tell you, the world has gotten better due to your desire to love, and not only does it desire it, you need it too.
I certainly have, I'll miss this view

Malaria rates have drastically reduced as a result of
the Mass Bed Net Distribution in Sagalla
 Malaria rates have drastically reduced within Africa due to the Global Fund, the President's Malaria Initiative, and Stomp Out Malaria, among many other partners. At my site alone, a mass bed net distribution in 2012 has reduced malaria rates by over 60% in less than a year. Every year, Peace Corps Kenya volunteer trains hundreds of youth to realize that they can make their own healthy decisions when it comes to preventing HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancy. Next month, for the first time in Kenya, PEPFAR is organizing with  Peace Corps to teach a Men As Partners camp, focusing on training young men about domestic violence, substance abuse, and healthy gender relations. This is work done by normal Americans, funded by normal Americans. You are making a difference, and you will continue to the make a difference.
The Youth Center has been an epicenter for youth engagement in Sagalla
            Idealism is a victim of the very enemies it is trying to defeat, which is indifference and oppression. Of the two,  the latter cannot be defeated immediately and perhaps because of the amount of time taken to combat it, the former breeds.
            Indeed, I am here to tell you to be idealistic, and be willing to live with it. Because being idealistic is difficult, it involves having to deal with challenges, failure, and the burden of having to humble and ultimately change 
yourself. Peace Corps is not just about helping people, it's also about letting other people help and change your perception. Idealism will break you, make you question your values, and ultimately put you at the cliff ready to fall down into yourself, but as you peer down, I want you to realize how far you have climbed because you believed you can.
The partnership between Host Country Nationals and Peace Corps Volunteers breeds a fusion of ideas and energy to make a difference, such as the restoration of this dam.
One of the proudest days of my life
            I want you to join Peace Corps, I want you to help people, more importantly, I want you to believe that it's possible to make a difference. Because it is, if I could, why can't you if you desired to. I will choose to believe in you, and will be continue to attempt to be an example for those after me to follow.
Peace be upon you,
Tanim Awwal

March 20th, 2014

This post is dedicated to the thousands of Volunteers who have served in world, from JICA, VSO, and Peace Corps in particular. This post is also dedicated to the thousands more I hope will choose to volunteer in the future, for them, I wish you courage, leadership, integrity, grace, and Zen in your development.

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