Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Q & A

Okay, so I have nothing really new to report yet, BUT there are a lot of really good questions being asked, so I want to take some time to answer them.

Have you done anything like this before?

Haha! No. I mean, I have been to Mexico twice for some R&R and I have done service work before, but nothing like this. The closest I have come to doing something like this was when I took service trips (two) to the Appalachian mountains to build/repair houses for low income families. However, those were only for a week at a time and the people I was serving spoke English. In short, I have never done service work in a foreign country.

What prompted you to join the Peace Corps?

Here is the story. Up until the summer of 2008, I had a great position at a Chicago-land area NPO (Non Profit Organization) located at the university from which I graduated. At this NPO I worked very closely with college students to create and develop community service experiences.

During my 18 months in that position, I found that the main obstacle that prevented some (Not all...Definitely not all!) individuals from participating in certain service experiences was because it was hard for them to get out of their comfort zones. (I am not putting these people down; getting out of your comfort zone is rough to do. I mean, if you have never been to a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen before, your first experience can be a little scary; at the very least you may feel some level of uneasiness. That is a natural feeling when someone comes completely out, or at least to the edge, of their comfort zone.) At any rate, my favorite part of the position was recruiting people for these projects and encouraging them to push their comfort zones out farther and farther. If they kept pushing themselves, I knew they would open themselves to great experiences and deep levels of fulfillment; not just in the raw work that they would be doing, but in the friendships they would create.

I loved what I was doing and I was successful. HOWEVER, after working at this university-based NPO for about 12 months I began to I realize that I was not pushing MY comfort zones anymore. I was totally comfortable with every experience in which I was participating, which is good, BUT I began to feel like I had to take it to the next level, you know...so, I researched a couple of organizations and, ultimately, I applied for a tour of service in the United States Peace Corps.

Anyways, I worked at this university-based NPO through the 2007/2008 academic year and during the summer of 2008 the students with whom I had been working took over the projects we had created. I left the organization in July 2008 and since then I have been working part-time at an NPO that houses/supports the families of children that are receiving medical treatment at Chicago-land hospitals.

My NPO employment opportunities have definitely tested my comfort zones. I left myself open to the experiences these organizations offered me over the past three years (give or take) and, in doing so, I have made a great deal of friends; people with great minds, big hearts, true faith, and unwavering determination and hope. I assume my Peace Corps adventure will introduce me to people that are no different in that regard.

However, I feel the "complete immersion" experience offered by the Corps will provide the challenge I am desiring; an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and challenge my notions of poverty, healing, and true humanitarian aid. In short, I expect this experience to provide me the opportunity to practice everything I had been preaching to college students for the past like three years. Most importantly, I hope my experiences will inspire a few people to get out of their comfort zones and serve in their local communities, join fundraising boards for NPOs, and/or even consider a career path dedicated to social/civil service, NPO management, etc.
*Emmett nudges you with his elbow...yeah, you*

There are other reasons too. I want to travel and see the world, learn a new language or two, etc., etc. However, all other reasons are secondary to the main reason described above.

What has your timeline been like from when you completed your Peace Corps application until today?

As you read my answer, please keep in mind that in order to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, you must possess the virtues of patience, humor, and flexibility. Yes, humor and flexibility are virtues...I decided that just now. Also, be aware that once a person becomes nominated for service, it normally takes 9-12 months for a person to be placed. Alrighty, here is my timeline... in chronological order:

November 2007:
-Emmett completes and submits his very lengthy Peace Corps application
-Emmett schedules his interview with the Corps for January

January 2008:
-Emmett totally destroys the interview and is nominated AT the interview to serve in Sub-Saharan Africa starting in July 2008
-Emmett accepts the nomination on the spot

April 2008:
-Emmett completes medical examinations, tests, and other paperwork necessary for Peace Corps service

June 2008:
-Emmett receives notice that his service start date is no longer July 2008, but has been postponed until late 2008

August 2008:
-Emmett receives notice that his service start date will no longer be in late 2008, but has been postponed until early/mid 2009
-Emmett starts to doubt whether or not this is really going to happen
(I seriously had a lot of doubt...like I was running interviews and negotiating job offers up until like a week ago.)

October 2008:
-Emmett receives an invitation from the Corps to serve in Rwanda starting in January 2009
-Emmett accepts the invitation and most of his doubt is removed
(When I am in Africa, then I'll believe it is for reals; there is nothing stopping the Corps from delaying, postponing, or even canceling this project...it is not the Corps' fault at all; it all depends on the political climate of the country in which the work is being done...don't worry, if my tour of service is cut short at any time, then I have the option of going home OR being assigned to another country and project...again, political climate dictates much of this...its better to be safe than sorry and the Peace Corps is ALL about safety.)

November 2008:
-Emmett begins independent studies/training for Peace Corps service

January 2009:
-Emmett is suppose to ship out to Rwanda and begin formal Peace Corps training

Did you choose Rwanda? If so, why?

Hmmm...yes and no. During the application and interview stages of the process you can express country and work preferences, but nothing is guaranteed. I wanted to keep everything to chance, the gambler that I am, so I just told them to put me where they needed me and/or where they felt I would best perform.

During the spring of 2008 I went to a Peace Corps Meet & Greet at the Corps' Chicago HQ; the Director of the Peace Corps was the keynote speaker. During his presentation, he announced that the Corps will be re-entering Rwanda after 15 years. He was excited to get volunteers back to the small country and lay groundwork for some strong health-related projects; that excitement was catchy.

At the Meet & Greet, I had been a Peace Corps Nominee. (If I recall correctly, there are six stages to the Peace Corps life cycle: Applicant, Nominee, Invitee, Trainee, Volunteer, and Return Volunteer.) At any rate, at the Meet & Greet I had been a Nominee for a few months and was waiting for the Corps to figure out where to place me in Africa. Well, the day after the Meet & Greet I contacted my Peace Corps Placement Officer in D.C. and told him how excited I was to hear that Rwanda was making such great strides. Our conversation, much like this blog entry, was lengthy; I told him that, ultimately, I will go wherever the Corps sends me, BUT if there was an opening to be on the team re-entering Rwanda, that he should definitely be keeping me in mind....granted that the Corps felt that Rwanda was the place for me. Well, here I am...one month away from leaving for Rwanda.

What are you doing to prepare?

I am reading anything and everything about Rwanda and HIV/AIDS. I must confess that I am most interested in studying the French language. The Peace Corps sent me a modified application (French for beginners) of the Rosetta Stone. So, I have been chewing through that and I have been taking courses at the French cultural center in Chicago. I don't get into the bulk of my studies until February of 2009. From February-April 2009 I am a Peace Corps Trainee and I get into the real nuts and bolts of the work I'll be doing over the two years that follow. Soooooo, I'm kinda takin' it easy now because I know it will get hardcore starting in early February.

How can I help? How can I learn more?

Keep the Staff and Volunteers of Peace Corps Rwanda and, mostly, the people of Rwanda in your thoughts and prayers...seriously.

Check out our blogs. Also, a few of us are really cool and started a Facebook Group (Kevin is rolling his eyes as he is reading this, I know it!). The group is "Peace Corps Rwanda"...join it if you want to learn more and/or show your support. All are welcome.

Keep the questions coming, everyone! Email me, facebook me, or hit the comment link below!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Blog is Back

Indeed...the blog is back! Yeah, I originally created a blog entitled "Emmett Valentine Reeb, III" (creative, I know) during the summer of 2008, BUT I had nothing compelling to write...so I took the original blog out of circulation.

HOWEVER, recent developments have changed all that. Specifically, in late October I received a call from my Peace Corps Placement Officer in Washington, D.C. informing me that my invitation/assignment was in the mail. Within a few days of that phone call, I received my invitation packet. Here is a summary of the material that was sent to me:

Country: Rwanda
Program: Health, HIV/AIDS, Organizational Capacity Development
Position Title: Community Health & Organizational Development
Orientation: January 2009
Pre-Service Training: January 2009 - April 2009
Dates of Service: April 2009-April 2011
Brief Program Description:
You will be part of the first group of volunteers to re-enter Rwanda after a 15 year absence... The country is currently peaceful and stable with a government that has a clear plan for development across many sectors, is responsive to development partners, and works to ensure that the work of the partners fits with the country's development goals...Peace Corps Rwanda's primary mandate is to assist communities, service providers and organizations in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS. You will be working towards this goal through developing the capacity and functions of health facilities and organizations providing services related to health, HIV/AIDS and development. Your role as a Volunteer will primarily be focused on capacity building and will take on different forms during your service: coach, facilitator, teacher, change agent, and trusted colleague.

Soooooooo...I finally have something to write about! I would have gotten to this blog a bit sooner, but I have been spending the last few weeks studying and spending time with family and friends. I am going to try VERY hard to keep this blog updated and interesting. I anticipate my entries to be frequent, descriptive, and hopefully full of pictures (and full of speeling and gramaticale mistakes...I apologize ahead of time); I know for sure that I will have picture albums posted on facebook, so check my facebook page routinely for updates as well.

A final note about this blog: I need your help in developing it! E-mail and/or facebook me any and all questions, comments, and concerns you have so I can make this as much of an interactive and fun experience as possible. Your questions are important because they will give me some direction in my blog entries...I tend to go off on tangents and if I am not focused, then I will talk and/or write on and on and on...like this one time I was talking to Kevin about this very same thing and...Ah! See! There I go again!

Okay, here are some good sample questions and some VERY brief sample answers:

What's next, Emmett?
Great question, reader. I have a few more weeks in the States, so I will be spending this time researching HIV/AIDS (the history of the disease, the medical terminology, etc.), studying up on Rwanda (history, culture, politics, etc.), and learning French. Honestly, though, the bulk of my time is going to be spent with friends and family.

Where will you be stationed in Rwanda?
I don't know for sure yet. I expect to receive my staging materials any day now. Staging materials are mailed to Peace Corps volunteers 3-6 weeks before their expected departure date. The materials in my staging kit will detail many things, including where I am staying and what to pack.

Why do you have to learn French?
I actually need to know three languages! The people of Rwanda speak Kinyarwandan (I know nothing about this language), English (I'm fluent...no problem there), and French (I know enough to impress and flirt with girls here in the States). Back to your question...Rwanda was originally a German occupied colony in 1899, but was soon taken over by Belgium. Rwanda and Belgium had decades worth of interaction. Belgians speak French. I'm sure you can connect the dots on this one.

Okay, so, you get it? I would like to start each blog entry with something I have found interesting, a brief update on my status, my thoughts and rants, etc., BUT I would like to close each entry with questions taken from YOU! With that said, what are your questions?