Though I’m not yet leaving South Africa, I am moving from one site to another as I switch from my original assignment to my third year assignment. In one way, I am finishing up my service and starting anew. This past week, I attended the COS conference for my cohort, SA24. Of the 57 of us who came to country, 47 made it to the end of service. For SA, this is amazing….most cohorts lose far more than we did due to ETs. 45 of us were at our COS conference…two having already COS’d. And while most of the information given at our COS conference won’t be relevant to me for another year, it was a time for reflection on what I’ve done so far.
Have I really left this place (my old village) better than it was before?
One of the things that is unique to SA is that just by being in my village for two years, I make a small impact. Children and adults in my village were able to interact regularly with a white person-one who was learning their language, making efforts to honor their culture, and who tried to help them. This certainly hadn’t happened to them before. Children began to change their attitudes: instead of being terrified that a white lady was speaking to them, they began to laugh, then they stopped laughing and greeted me normally. At the end, children would run up to me, gleefully shouting my name and greetings in English and Setswana. Adults stopped averting their eyes and speaking Afrikaans to me, and instead happily jabbered at me in Setswana, or tested their shy English skills. I scarcely heard “lekgoa!” being shouted at me as I walked through the village. Women would stop and offer to help me carry my things, and men would help me find transport.
Even if PCVs in SA do nothing else, we change the stereotypes. We leave our villages a little bit better than they were before, no matter our race.
Yet there were a multitude of projects I wanted to start, and things I wanted to teach the children. There were things I allowed to slip through my village, whether through exhaustion, frustration, or simply not knowing how to solve the unceasing problems. I wanted to do many things: start a girls’ club, host a Camp GLOW, get funding for the garden club, reach out to more home gardeners, significantly improve English and NS scores, start a LoveLife, set up a library, focus more on HIV/AIDS nutrition, engage the community….and many more than I can’t even remember now. It’s easy to set your goals too high and dwell on the things we failed to do.
But I believe that every PCV leaves their home a little better than before. It could well be that all of my projects have completely failed six months from now, and that the people in my village forget my name. Maybe they’ll start to forget that I was ever there. But small things will remain: the adorable Grade R who ran to greet me each day might vaguely remember how to plant seeds, my 13 year old host sister might have strong enough English skills to attend university someday, my counterpart may glance at the garden year plan we made from time to time, and the teachers might remember to take the learners outside every now and then and teach in the garden. Or they might not.
It was really hard to leave my old village behind. I had invested a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears over the past few years. Even though I saw my counterpart and the Garden Club learners take ownership of our garden, I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to stay and see what they do next. But I can’t. And while I’m hoping to visit in 2014, who knows what the future holds.
I hope and pray that I’ve left my old village a little better than before. I doubt I’ll even know if and how, but as long as one little things changed, or one opinion shifted, then it was two years well spent.