In an incredible turn of events, I was connected with Peace Corp volunteers working in the northern part of Nicaragua. They lived outside of Esteli, in a small town called Pueblo Nuevo. They invited me to spend the night with their host family to learn more about what I was doing, as well as give me an opportunity to see what their lives looked like on a day to day basis. As I mentioned last week, I’m excited to explore the impact outsiders have on this nation, and while recently I have had a close look at what business looks like, I have not seen or interacted with long term volunteers. After my first experience on the chicken bus, Tara, Dan, and their host family welcomed me with open arms. (Just a note about the chicken bus: Nicaragua’s bus system, similar to other Central American countries, is comprised of old US school buses. The buses have been transformed on the outside with vibrant colors and their destinations written on them. It took me quite some time to get used to crazy school buses, but for whatever reason The Best of ABBA was playing on my chicken bus while I was headed to Esteli, and I had the most fun! Looking back, it was really quite odd.)
As Peace Corp volunteers Tara and Dan are in Pueblo Nuevo for two years. They live with a family, and both of them teach environmental science in area schools. Other volunteers deal with health or teach entrepreneurship in schools. We ended up walking around the town, and I watched how the local people greeted Tara and Dan – everyone knew who they were. As volunteers who invest so much of their time in one specific place and in one specific area they are able to see the impact of their work, and manage what is and is not working as it happens. Conversely, volunteers who come from US organizations to build churches or homes risk taking jobs from Nicaraguans and have no idea, or sometimes care, what happens to their work after their departure.
From an Insight Collaborative perspective, communities have so much to gain from this long term volunteer structure. The first thing that comes to mind is that when you are sharing a space with someone in the way that Tara and Dan are, your ability to understand your community’s interests is so much greater. Further, with that relationship and trust, people are willing to work with you to create a variety of options. And, as I mentioned before, because of your time commitment, you are there from start to finish ready to work through the Circle of Value as many times as necessary.
To end my time in Esteli I ended up cooking chicken cutlets and pasta for Tara, Dan, and their host family, something I would have with my own family. Sitting and eating I had another “I cannot believe I am on this fellowship” moment. Writing this I am having an “I cannot believe this fellowship is coming to an end” moment.