Overcoming Disappointment

As I have started working more, I should not have been surprised when I had my first work disappointment. My primary school was approved for the Books for Africa project to get a library at a significantly reduced cost, and they have to pay a small portion of the fees to make sure they are invested in the project. I had suggested we fundraise for the cost, but my head teacher assured me he could pay the fee out of the school fees. Well, as the deadline approached I went to the school repeatedly trying to get the check, and they did not have it. Since the deadline is not something I control, when the school missed the deadline they are no longer qualified for the project. It is disappointing for any number of reasons, but not at all unusual.

Any development work here, especially following the Peace Corps approach is sometimes frustratingly slow.  Besides the differences culturally in definitions such as “on time” or “professional”, there are other barriers as well. The reason my school did not have money from school fees yet is because the government, which now covers fees for grades 1-6, had not yet paid the schools. For the first couple weeks of the term there was no electricity in the school. Obviously, paying teachers salaries takes priority over creating a library.

While this is a problem, there is an underlying problem I noticed the day before the check was due. When I explained, for the umpteenth time, that if the check were late there would be no books, my head teacher seemed slightly skeptical if that would hold true. There is little accountability from some development organizations so it is not entirely surprising our deadline seemed flexible. Secondly, the community having to put in any effort to receive aid is rare, especially in Swaziland. That is not to say they do not need or deserve the assistance, but rather they rarely have to work for it. My head teacher asked me why the US government could not just pay the fee for them when I said we would not have a library this year. While I was annoyed because I had explained repeatedly it’s not so much about the money as making sure the community is committed to the project; I also understand where they are coming from. When other organizations will give away assistance for free, there is little incentive to work with an organization that requires buy-in for the same or similar services.

While I firmly believe in Peace Corps’ approach to development; that combined with a legacy of other organizations in the community can make it much harder to do my job. I was disappointed the project I was most excited for is not going to happen, and sometimes it makes it very hard to feel accomplished. During training the medical unit showed us a chart of the average PCV’s emotions during service. We are currently in a low period according to the chart, and a lot of my friends’ texts, and it is easy to see why. Now that we are starting to do real work we are also starting to see real failures.

I thought I’d post a random picture of me and my friends hiking since my project didn’t work out!

Hiking with the gals

Hiking with the gals

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4 thoughts on “Overcoming Disappointment

  1. HI Maggie,
    So sorry to hear about the project no go. You don’t know this now, but these experiences will serve you well in the future. It won’t be the last time you will have to deal with people who do not follow through with something. Hang in there! Love you,
    Aunt Jane

  2. Ohhhh, so accountability and commitment isn’t just an American issue? But, it is something that can (and should) be taught. Keep the faith Maggie, it’s a common problem and even if you can’t see it right now, you ARE making a difference.

  3. Hi! I just got a PC invitation for Swaziland. But I’m on the fence about it. I have already volunteered a lot (one of those being internationally in Europe for a summer), so part of me is not sure whether to pursue the PC option. My two options: I could stay with my current teaching job, and simply travel abroad during my summer months. Or, I could do the PC for two years. Thoughts? What about your experience? Would you make the same choice again? Would you recommend it to others? Frustrations? Best experiences? I understand each of us have a different experience, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thank you! – Sunny

  4. Hi Sunny. I would absolutely recommend coming to Peace Corps. I have volunteered abroad in the past as have my friends here, but there is nothing like Peace Corps. Being able to live and work within the same community for two years will give you more personal connections, work experience, and life changing experiences than other short term, or less intensive options. It is a challenging job at times, and you will have days that you are so frustrated, but in the end it is worth it. I wouldn’t give up my experiences here for anything. Obviously, I would consider your personal situation, and what you want, but if you want to get to know a culture abroad and be part of it, rather than just visiting it is the best way in my opinion! It is a whole experience, I don’t know that I have one favorite, but sitting around with my host family and learning new things daily is incredibly rewarding. I hope that helps!!

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