Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Invitation to Serve as an Economic Development Volunteer in Uganda

It was so exciting to finally receive my official invitation packet. It came on March 21st, 2011 in a big white Tyvek envelope delivered by UPS...not the USPS, which I found ironic. Even the government doesn't trust the US Mail.
The Invitation Packet of Material
There are lots of instructions and steps to take - some within 7 days. I had to formally accept the invite. I had to complete several forms to get a New Peace Corps Passport. I had to complete several forms for Visas to enter Uganda as well as Kenya....still not sure why I need a Kenyan visa...there is no real back & forth communication. I had to tailor my resume to my new assignment in Uganda and complete several questions to submit as my Aspiration Statement. I also was directed to an online resource - the Uganda Welcome Book. This is 100 pages and gives a great overview of serving in the Peace Corps in Uganda.

I leave August 3rd, 2011 for 2 days of Staging & Orientation - either in Philadelphia or Washington DC. I then go to Uganda for 10 weeks of Pre-Service Training. During this time I will be assigned one of the 40+ native languages to learn and be oriented to the cultural norms of Ugandan society. I will also have intensive training on safety & security procedures. My assignment will formally begin October 15, 2011 and will end 2 years later on October 15, 2013.

Uganda Econ Development Assignment Booklet
I have worked my way through the first major tasks and now I am focused on the Folders on Finance, Insurance and Staging. I am also starting to get my packing list together. I can bring 2 suitcases weighing 80 pounds total and a carry-on.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coming to the Decision

Deciding to apply to the Peace Corps is a big decision. It requires a person to commit to stepping away from their everyday life for 27 months. Also you have no control on where you will be assigned - so there is a big faith component that is required throughout the process.

For some years I have not felt I was doing my life's work. The role I had enjoyed the most was winding down. I loved raising my sons - but the oldest left for college in 2009 and my baby would graduate high school in 2010. Though I would always be their mom, my work was mostly done. It was their turn to fly and create their own life paths.

My marriage is filled with love and respect for each other. But after 22 years, we had fallen into patterns of behavior that were less than joyful and frequently left the other feeling under valued and unseen. This was not the way we wanted to spend the rest of our lives but, we were unable to change the dynamics.

Then we had our careers - our work was not feeding our passions and this impacted both of us and surely frustrated our efforts to renew our relationship.


After much soul searching and weighing of options, I decided on the Peace Corps. My husband and I felt the 2 years apart could help us find our way back together. It would free him up to discover his second career and focus on training for his first half iron man. We would definitely become more interesting to each other and not take each other for granted. Military couples do this all the time. So why not us??

I had considered the Peace Corps in college after traveling around the world on Semester-at-Sea, but somehow grad-school, marriage, career and kids took over my life.  The Peace Corps has been around for 50 years, has the best training programs and is well respected by many governments and their people. Also -once you complete your service, volunteers are eligible for the Peace Corps Fellows Program (a graduate school fellowship program that offers financial assistance to returned Peace Corps Volunteers at more than 60 participating universities). Other benefits are a job placement service for returned volunteers and one year of noncompetitive eligibility for employment in the federal government. As I don't have a clue what I will want to do upon completion of my service, I like having multiple options. School is appealing, but I also love working when the position aligns my talents with my moral compass.

So in Sept 2010 I applied to the Peace Corps. It is a long, intensive process and truly tests your resolve and patience. During the course of the application process, I was told I may go to South or Central America, or Eastern Europe, then finally Africa.I was told to be ready for fast track placement that would ship out in Mid March 2011 and to teach myself college level Spanish between November and January. I was subjected to dental, medical, ophthalmic, and mental evaluations and numerous vaccinations. I also endured a false positive test result for a blood deficiency (G6PD deficient) which would have limited my placement to countries that have no history of malaria and consequently have very harsh winters. For those that know me cold weather is not my favorite kind of weather. I LOVE THE HEAT. I was very worried about the stress cold weather would put on I refused to accept the test and got a re-test....which luckily showed I did not have the deficiency. What-Ever!

The biggest challenge I had with the process is that it is mostly a 1-way conversation. You answer all their questions and they make all the decisions on the Peace Corps time frame. If you express a preference for a geographic location you are told you might not be "Peace Corps Material" if you are not willing to serve where you are placed. It definitely is a government agency and the adage"hurry up and wait" rings true in this process. This may be their process of weeding out those who have not mastered patience or flexibility because the more I learn, the more I realize these skills are necessary to survive and flourish in your Peace Corps role.

So after preparing my family for a speedy departure in Mid-March, I was informed I had missed that opportunity and would be put on regular track...So in Mid March I received my official invitation to serve in Uganda as an Economic Development Volunteer leaving in Early August 2011. Very Cool and Very Exciting!!!

The great news is I was given more time to get things in order. Matt and I rented out our large home. We sorted through 20+ years of family life and purged a great deal, stored more than we should have and moved the essentials to a lovely small rental home in Nashville.

Our New Little Red House!
Our Backyard Pond with Waterfall!
We are having fun "Setting-up House" and really enjoy the Greenway paths just down the block from our backdoor. We run and walk it almost everyday. There is a large creek with bridges and a lot of shaded pathways. Ideal on a hot summer day! The dogs are adjusting to losing their 3 acres but are enjoying the outings with us.

The Greenway paths connect us to several other neighborhoods and we can walk to many restaurants. It feels as European as my sisters home in Zurich....well almost.

Anyway, we are beginning to get settled and I am now preparing in earnest for my departure August 3rd.