Interviews with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Say Your Peace is a blog segment that focuses on highlighting the experiences of returned volunteers, in hopes of both cultivating a deep respect for their work and inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
Today on Say Your Peace we talk to Benjamin Davies, a current graduate student in soil and crop sciences, and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Lesotho. Read on to learn more about Benjamin’s work in Lesotho and how he got involved with Peace Corps.
Where did you serve in the Peace Corps, and which sector did you work in?
I served in the Kingdom of Lesotho as a Community Health and Economic Development (CHED) volunteer. My site was Sehlabathebe, Lesotho in the Drakensburg Mountains.
Why did you decide to work with Peace Corps?
I always knew that I wanted to work in international development but to get a job abroad you need international work experience. I reached out to people I knew who had worked in international development and many replied that the best way to get international work experience and prove yourself was to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Furthermore, many also said that some of their best colleagues were Returned Peace Corps volunteers. That was all I needed to hear so I applied.
Did you have a mission upon entering the Peace Corps? Do you feel that you completed that mission?
I tried not to have a mission when I was entering the Peace Corps but I do remember thinking I was going to create my own mini “green revolution” in my area. However, I quickly realized that the best way to make any positive impact was not to try and impose my ideas and vision, but to work with the people in my area to help them realize theirs, and help guide them in how to make their ideas and visions a reality.
How did the experience compare to your expectations?
Peace Corps is probably the most defining experience I have had to date. And this is in spite of me growing up across Africa and Asia. Peace Corps opened my eyes to what life in rural Africa is really like. Peace Corps also exposed me to both the positive and negative impacts of development and how important community-led development is. I tried to go into Peace Corps without any expectations but to be willing to experience and be open to anything and everything.
What was the biggest challenge you faced? How did you overcome it?
I lived and worked in a very resource poor area, so finding ways to develop projects and find resources to work with the community groups and schools was always a challenge. I tried to work with what I had available as well as try and find different grants that could be useful.
What was the most valuable part of your experience? What did this teach you?
I learned a lot about myself, especially my strengths and weaknesses. I learned that one does not have to have a lot to be happy. I learned that development is slow and two years is not long enough but it is a start. Peace Corps was testing but also so rewarding. It is hard to describe but the cliché answer is that it really is the hardest job you’ll ever love.
Do you have a favorite/most influential story from your time serving?
Soon after arriving at my site, I was on a needs-assessment visit to a nearby village to meet with a community group I was going to be working with. My counterpart and I had just hiked a couple of hours through the mountains and had finally arrived at the village, but were soon told that the meeting had been cancelled because a woman in the village was celebrating and had killed a cow for the feast. As we walked over to her compound and saw these massive pots boiling, we were directed to a group of men sitting in a circle. Soon after we joined, a huge basin (yes, basin) of meat was brought over. There was only some salt and one knife. Sitting around this basin of meat we each took turns reaching in, grabbing a hunk of meat, cutting a piece of meat off the bone, salting it and then passing the knife on. Soon the wind began to pick up and sand started to blow, so we relocated to a nearby hut where the cow had been quartered and hung. As we continued to eat, a man grabbed the skull and an axe and started to hack into it to get to the brain (a delicacy). Looking around and trying to take it all in, I felt like I was in a dream. I also realized that I was experiencing something that may not be around much longer, and I said to myself, “Yup, I’m in the Peace Corps.” If anything, this experience opened me up to the best way to eat meat, as well as how to always be open to new experiences. Also, you never know what the day will bring.
Would you recommend working with Peace Corps? Who do you think is well suited for the Peace Corps?
Yes!!! Everyone should try to be a Peace Corps volunteer. It is an incredible experience and opportunity to learn about the world, travel, make lifelong friendships and gain invaluable life skills and work experience. I think someone who is curious about the world, wants to work alongside people, and is open to new experiences, cultures, and languages would be a good candidate.
Do you have any advice for prospective Peace Corps volunteers?
Be willing to be flexible and open to experiences. Remember that no matter how tough things are, a smile and a “hello” go a long way. Peace Corps is life changing and even if it doesn’t feel like it, the two years fly by.
What are you up to now?
Working on my PhD in soil and crop sciences.