An absolutely stunning video of the island nation I call home, courtesy Vincy Vision. I know this isnt the update you were hoping for, but I think this should be a better replacement until the real update comes!
It has been so incredibly long since I
last updated you all.I am sure by now
most of you have forgotten that I am still in the Peace Corps. Firstly, that is
because I extended my service, yet again/so many times. And secondly, because
during that time I was so incredibly busy with my project of starting a youth
rugby programme, in addition to teaching/librarian at the secondary school, and
traveling, that I barely had time for myself let alone to update my blog or
send emails! But today, I write to you all only mere days from my COS (close
of service).The end is imminent.
After nearly 4 years, it is finally
coming to an end (and its surreal).It
has been an incredible journey in many regards. It most definitely started out pretty rough,
from having my original assignment canceled one week prior to leaving, to being
in limbo for 3 months and then being sent to a completely different region
teaching literacy (I'm an engineer after all!). Honestly I cannot believe that
I extended my service so many times, nearly doubling the required 2 years.But I have fallen in love with my life in St.
Vincent.My entire Peace Corps
experience has been life changing and eye opening.
Since the last update there have
been many accomplishments and things happening. I organized and directed two
successful month long summer youth rugby camps (2013, 2014); I developed and
implemented a grassroots youth rugby programme, introducing tag rugby into
primary school students during PE classes and starting Nov 2014 secondary
school students too; I traveled to Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Tortola;
some for work, some for rugby and some for play J.I’ve spent a total of 11 weeks (October 2013,
June/July 2014) in the States trying to catch up with friends and family. I
have seen many of my Peace Corps friends finish their service and start careers
and have welcomed that many more new Peace Corps Volunteers to St. Vincent. I
have also worked with the SVGRUFC executive to hire a new coach to replace me
and continue the youth rugby programme.I am so incredibly happy/proud to know that the project that I poured my
heart and soul into will continue (and grow) in my absence.
Overall, my Peace Corps experience
has been just that, an experience and an adventure. And one that I would never
take back or change.If nothing else, at
all times it has been a roller
coaster. I have seen challenge after challenge, both personally and
professionally, but I have seen an equal number of triumphs, albeit some small.
I have risen to the occasion(s), surprising even myself with creativity,
resourcefulness, patience, perseverance and resilience; so far as overcoming a
period of major depression. I have made so many deep meaning friendships and
have had to say goodbye to a few of those.Some have passed on, for others the distance was too great. No matter I
am grateful to have had them in the first place. I may have missed many new
chapters beginning in the States, but I have started a number of my own or
shared in others’ here in SVG. While I was assigned to SVG to serve as a
literacy teacher, I actually learned more than I taught. I have experienced a
number of severe natural disasters (most recently, the Christmas Eve Floods
which resulted in 12 deaths), while ironically missing two major hurricanes
that affected the North East US, and have also been fortunate to explore such a
beautiful and environmentally rich island nation, hiking volcanoes, swimming in
rivers, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and many waterfalls, just to
name a few of the amazing eco adventures available. Although I am a vegetarian,
I have had the opportunity to try iguana, sting ray, blackfish (a type of
dolphin), shark, lionfish, conch, armadillo, tripe, goat balls and goat head, cattle
skin, chicken backs, necks and feet, pork (that was reared in a friends back
yard), manicou (opossum), and yard fowl.I have eaten more fruits than I can even list. Unfortunately, I have had
numerous health incidents/injuries; ranging from mysterious rashes and fevers
(dengue?), to infections, and the worst of them all: a root canal and crown on
my front tooth.Luckily I have learned
some new rather interesting remedies, consisting of many different leaves,
bushes, fruits, herbs, etc. Whatever the ailment, there is a remedy and
probably a superstition to go along with it. Also can’t forget the local rum
(84.5%, that’s percent not proof!),
which is said to cure basically everything.
Prior to Peace Corps, Never Have I Ever: really known how to
cook; how to wash clothes by hand; been a contortionist (van rides will test
your flexibility); bathed in a river; bathed out of a bucket; swam with sea
turtles; hitchhiked; eaten so many different foods; been warmly invited into
stranger’s homes and offered a meal, or even a place to stay (I was stuck in
another island!), but more importantly I have learned to see things as they are
and to never take anything for granted. I have a much more positive outlook on
life, eternally grateful for the things I do have: health, love and support
from family and friends; a roof over my head and food in my belly, and to a
much greater extent than those whom I live around, choices. I have a totally
new perspective; I can and will adapt, I can and will change and grow, I can and
do go without, things that were “necessities”, no longer seem so important.
Many people think that Peace Corps is so difficult because of the lack of
amenities, but it’s actually quite easy to adjust.It’s the emotional and psychological side of
things that makes Peace Corps difficult: the isolation and loneliness, but at
the same time, being surrounded by people and constantly being on display (the
fish bowl effect). Alternatively, many people think the Caribbean is some
paradise.While it has stunningly
beautiful scenery, what they don’t show you in the travel guides is the high
rates of unemployment and poverty, the poor education system and health care
and the social impacts as a result of these shortcomings. All of these factors
have contributed to my evolved outlook and perspective on life. I have also
learned to live in the moment, because you really don’t know what could happen
tomorrow. Nothing is guaranteed.
At this point, no doubt, you are
wondering what my next move will be. I will be staying in St. Vincent looking
for a job. Preferably something more engineering related, or at the very least
science and math focused.We will see
what the future holds.
Please note that my address will
change as will my phone number.If you
are interested in sending me mail, please ask me for my new address!
Lastly, thank you for your support,
encouragement, love and friendship throughout my entire journey of pursuing the
Peace Corps.I could not have gotten
here were it not for your support and encouragement, and I could not have continued without you sharing in my joys, nor without your words of encouragement and advice so help me through the rough patches. Thank you.
Please check back soon though, as I will be posting LONG OVER DUE posts, since I will have more time to finally catch up with my blog.
I recently (April 2014, I'm
a little behind in my posting) traveled to Dominica (OMG gorgeous! But that’s a
separate blog post). Anyways, I stayed with other Peace Corps
Volunteers. And when they introduced me I got the same reaction. It went
something like this:
PCV Friend (to their
friends (locals or other volunteers): This is my friend, Valarie, she’s a third
year volunteer in St. Vincent. She’s been here 3.5 years.
Friend: ohhhhhhh (with an
equally inquisitive and confused look).
Yeah. That’s the
typical reaction; people cannot understand why I am still here. But
it was nice to be in good company in Dominica with a fellow volunteer who also
extended for as along and as many times as I have and encounters the same
Sometimes I have the same
thoughts. Why AM I still here? (However, after having the
opportunity (not entirely my own idea) to travel back to the States twice in
the past year, it has been solidified in my mind that I am not ready to go back
Extending for so many times is particularly challenging at this
time of year. April is the time of year that most volunteers COS and
go back home. This year marks the third group of volunteers I have
become good friends with and have left. It’s starting to get
extremely tiresome becoming so close to people and having them leave.
Each Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience is completely their
own.No two experiences are the same. And
you cannot judge another’s experience based on your own. And from experience it
seems as though you either love it or you hate it.By the end of your two years, you’re either
ready to get the F out, or you are scratching your head wondering where the
time went, filling out paperwork to extend your service. I am just such a
I was assigned to a semi-private/semi-government-operated
rural secondary school, serving in the capacity of a remedial reading teacher
and librarian.I have worked to
establish a library by procuring library books from several US based non-profit
organizations. I have taught remedial reading classes.And on more than one occasion filled in for
teachers on maternity leave or for other reasons; teaching subjects ranging
from integrated science, maths, and physics.
I can’t say that my service has always been positive or
productive. There were many times where I felt very frustrated and unsupported
and discouraged. It seemed like at every turn there was a roadblock, preventing
me from doing my assignment.Other
times, it seemed as though there were barriers obstructing my visions and ideas
for improved remedial classes, a functional library, educational afterschool
clubs, and other initiatives, such as life skills classes, from becoming a
From the beginning I formed a strong and special bond with
the school Guidance Counselor.Together
we have created a Guidance Committee aimed at tackling some of the school’s
toughest social issues. This has been one of the most rewarding bonds and
positive programs I have been involved with.
From early on, I decided that I would want to extend my
stay.Due to the nature of how Peace
Corps operates, my group arrived in February, dictating that we would be
leaving in April.This falls in the
middle of the school term. I knew that I would want to finish the school year,
as otherwise I would feel as though I abandoned my students, the teachers, and
the Guidance Counselor/Committee. I would feel incomplete, as things would seem
to have been left unfinished, and abruptly.
Furthermore, from the day that I arrived in St. Vincent, I
began looking around for a rugby team.It took nearly a year before I accidentally stumbled upon/ found
them.When I first came on the rugby
scene in SVG, there were only a handful of players, and maybe one other girl.
In the beginning I was a dedicated player, albeit for fun and not competitive
at all, since I am not male, nor a citizen. But, I always had plans for
developing rugby in the back of my mind. On my own, I tried various times to
initiate a youth rugby team at the school I taught at, but to no avail. After
about a year of trying on my own, the men’s national team initiated an informal
and unorganized youth rugby program, whereby some of the players go to
different schools to teach/coach rugby.Some players have even started youth rugby teams in their
communities.While it was a slow go,
progress had been made, and it was a step in the right direction, toward
increasing awareness and interest in rugby in SVG.
To this end, I proposed that the SVG National Rugby team
organize and conduct a youth rugby camp over the summer 2013 (as a way I could
extend my service even longer). Much to my surprise, the team was very
receptive and extremely enthusiastic and supportive of the idea.Although, there were some hiccups in the
planning and execution of the inaugural summer youth rugby camp, it was
relatively successful and it served as the springboard for formally launching
the Grassroots Rugby Programme in SVG (also another reason to extend my
service!). What was once a fun pastime to stay active and meet new people, soon
transformed into my primary project.
After working tirelessly with the newly elected SVG RUFC Executive
Board, which focused first on restructuring and reorganizing the Club, focusing
primarily on building up rugby in SVG by targeting youth, we collaborated with
the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Department of Sports to
introduce rugby into the PE curriculum at the primary school level. Traveling
to numerous primary schools, teaching rugby to third and fourth graders became
my full time job.It was the best thing
to happen during my service and resulted in me extending my time, yet again!
The pilot Grassroots Rugby Programme was well received and
highly successful. We conducted another summer youth rugby camp.Now, after over three and a half years as a
Peace Corps Volunteer, and nearly two years as the Youth Programme Coordinator
for the SVG RUFC, I am handing over my duties.The Executive Board searched extensively for a new coach to take over
the Youth Programme.To that end, a
Welsh coach will be volunteering with the SVG RUFC for six months starting in
October 2014.Not a moment too soon, as
I officially complete my service Oct 4.
In September 2013, there was a PEPFAR funded conference for
all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Eastern Caribbean concerning gender-based
violence.For volunteers serving in St.
Vincent, we got to travel to Grenada for the conference. Since we already had
our flights paid for by the Peace Corps some of us decided to stay an extra few
days to visit other volunteers and see part of Grenada. Unfortunately, we could
not stay as long as we wanted due to some policy changes concerning vacation
Nonetheless, Grenada was amazing.It was much like St Vincent.People were nice and friendly but it was just
a bit more developed.In order of
increasing development and decreasing hospitality I would rank the countries in
the following order: St. VincentàGrenadaàDominicaàSt. Lucia. I would rank
Grenada and Dominica equally.People
there were very helpful and friendly, however, it was more developed than St.
Vincent. St. Vincent has the friendliest and most welcoming people, in my
opinion, but that’s probably because I live here, but is the least
developed.While, St Lucia is
considerably more developed, I find people there to not be as helpful or warm
and welcoming.Grenada was a nice
This applies to the bus experience as well.In St. Vincent every van has a conductor
which is responsible for alerting the driver of stops to pick up/drop off
passengers, collecting money and helping passengers with packages and bags or
small children. However, it is rather difficult to identify the correct van
going to the village you want to travel to, as there are no labels, only van
names. In addition, the vans tend to be very overcrowded sometimes holding as
many as 21 passengers in a 14-passenger van.Most times you must be a contortionist to ride in a van.
In St. Lucia there are no conductors at all, which slows down
the process significantly, as drivers need to make change and cant drive at the
same time.It is also more difficult
when you are traveling with large/heavy bags (as I most often am when I am in
St. Lucia). While the vans are marked
for easy identification of routes, they also usually play no music. In St. Lucia they are strict on the number of
passengers they carry.Hardly ever more
Grenada was kind of a mix of the two.Sometimes there were conductors, sometimes
there weren’t. There was a very orderly and organized bus terminal, something
that St. Vincent is lacking entirely. Some vans played music and some had
names, while others didn’t. Some had no problem helping us with our luggage
while others insisted we could not travel on a van with it, which is crap
because we had already been traveling a few days on numerous vans with all our
bags. Grenada also has nicely paved roads and a road that goes all the way
around the island, unlike St. Vincent.Additionally, there is a road that goes through the interior (which vans
don’t run on).This road and surrounding
areas reminded me a lot of most of St. Vincent.
In St. Vincent, since there is a conductor, you alert the
conductor as to where you are getting off.The conductor in turns uses a system of clicks from the door handle to
communicate to the driver that the van will be stopping.In St. Lucia, a passenger simply yells “Stopping
Please” to the driver.In Grenada, the
passenger knocks on the ceiling to alert the driver of their bus stop.Each island has its own system that works for
them.It’s interesting to see the
differences and similarities.
Over the Easter holiday 2014, I traveled to Dominica.Unfortunately/fortunately, I had the pleasure
of having a friend from the States join me who rented a vehicle.Therefore, I did not get to experience the
bus system in Dominica. However, Dominica is approximately twice the size of St.
Vincent with half the population.This
means, that communities are much more spread out.It is rather difficult to travel in Dominica.
Buses are far and few in between.Most
people have vehicles or hitchhike. Dominica has the most amazing roads I have
seen in a very long time.They were
recently paved with no potholes, every one, rural or not had lines and
reflectors.There was adequate signage
denoting speed limits or other road hazards.These are all things that are lacking in St. Vincent.