What will my legacy be? I admit, it’s quite a selfish thought, but one of my most frequent thoughts during my last month in village was “What will they say about me to the next volunteer?” (For those of you who aren’t familiar with how Peace Corps works, most positions are filled by three volunteers in a row, each serving for two years, for a total of six years.) I was the first volunteer in my village, so I had no expectations to live up to. For better or for worse, the next volunteer will face expectations I have left behind. Will they say I spoke horrible French? (Well, kinda true.) Will they say I spoke fluent Bissa? (Definitely not true.) Will they say I did all these projects or will they not really be able to remember what exactly I did? Will my family talk about all the horrible American food I made them eat?
But after these two years, I know that the legacy they left with me is undoubtedly greater than the legacy I have left behind. I hope some people in my community think more about health, have more knowledge, or feel inspired to promote healthy behaviors. I hope Madame Gouba feels encouraged to keep making enriched porridge even after I’m gone. I hope that just a few men start to see gender equality in a new light and set examples for their community on respecting and empowering women. But the one thing I don’t just hope, I know, is that I am forever changed because of my Peace Corps service.
Now I’m sure you’d like me to just list everything I’ve learned about myself and the world right now. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Peace Corps is something that continues to change you. And I’m not sure I have the words just yet about what Peace Corps means to me. (I know, I better figure it out quick for some job interviews.) I haven’t finished learning from this experience. It may be over, but as I reflect and adjust to life back home, I will take away new things from my service. It has certainly opened my world view and understanding. It has developed a sense of compassion mixed with deep-felt responsibility and respect for initiative. It showed me reality and the inspiration that lives within it.
One of my most inspirational moments as a Peace Corps Volunteer happened towards the end of my service. My last blog entry, I told you about the Men as Partners Conference, where we brought male counterparts to learn how they can be partners in women’s empowerment. My counterparts felt really convicted about the need to advocate for women facing domestic violence. My APCD (program director for the Health Program in PC/BF) came for a wrap-up site visit. She asked my counterparts to talk about what we’ve done together and what they’ve learned. Oussoudoma, one of the men who attended to conference with me, spoke about gender equality and its importance in his community with such passion and conviction that his eyes started to water, which is a lot for a Burkinabé male. Both my APCD and I were incredibly moved. It is so vital to empower women. For a country to develop, the entire population needs the opportunity to contribute to their fullest capacity. I have always been awed by the strength of the women in my village. But this moment was particularly inspiring because it was so against the status quo. Not only does this sort of view take understanding, it takes courage. Many volunteers don’t like to work with older people – they say they’re too stuck in their ways and they won’t change. They say you need to work with the next generation if you want lasting change. This man is a testament otherwise. His youngest son is in high school. He has gray hair and a beard. Old by Burkina standards. People like this inspire me because I realize that change is possible – it’s not some light we chase down a never-ending tunnel. And not change in a generation or two, but change tomorrow.
I somehow managed to be almost all packed by the morning of my last full day (very odd for me). In the afternoon, the two men who attended the Men as Partners Conference did a gender sensibilization. All in Bissa. Other than ask, “When are we going to do this sensibilziation?” I did nothing else. They came to our prep meeting with the lesson plan already written out with a case study and comprehension questions. Now I know most people don’t pride themselves on having nothing to do with an event, but our job is to work ourselves out of a job. It was a great way to end my work in village. Later that evening, the health center staff threw me a going away party, which no one informed me of until 4:00 pm to be there at 5 or 6 pm, although we didn’t actually start until 7:30 pm or so. We exchanged thank yous and goodbyes. And later that night, it quite fittingly poured. My first day in village, it poured, so of course it would rain my last. Being in Burkina gave me a new appreciation for rain. It brings new life and energy. It’s refreshing. More importantly, it means crops can grow and it means everyone sits in their house and does nothing until it stops. Unfortunately it rained from 3 am – 9:30 am, which meant my transport wasn’t leaving that morning. I was up and ready to go by 5:30, but wound up sitting in my house for two hours, waiting for the rain to stop. My host sister said it was Burkina telling me I shouldn’t leave. Nonetheless, I somehow managed to make it out later that morning. A few days later, I got a call to tell me that my sister-in-law had her baby. Since I was in the capital for another three days finishing up paperwork, I decided to go back to village for the night. While it was sad to say goodbye again, it was certainly a joyous occasion. She is a beautiful baby girl who I hope is never limited by her gender, but has all the opportunities to succeed and become a role model for other young women in her community one day.