In the normal job or school setting you get frequent feedback that helps you know how you’re doing. In school you get grades, in work you get evaluations and raises. And, if you come from a corporate setting you also have profits to check your productivity. The Peace Corps is NOT a normal job.
I’m making up what I’m going to do and I’m deciding how I did. Somehow this removes the arbitrariness, which annoyed me when I got my college report card or talked to my previous bosses about how I was doing in my job, and replaces it with doubt. The real trick is that proof that what I’m doing is making a difference won’t come for years, years after I’ve left Paraguay. Why? Because I’m trying to give people knowledge and skills to improve or maintain their health.
In the prevention part of public health you spend a lot of time telling yourself what you’re doing is valuable. When I worked for a health communication firm, I would think my work was impactful if my client was happy even if there was no proof that what I did actually improved people’s health. But, in the Peace Corps there is no client who will tell me I’m doing a good job even if there are no results. Sure, my boss will tell me I’m guapa. By doing activities I’ll meet more families who invite me over for lunch.
The compliment and lunch invite don’t really tell me how I’m doing. Many questions remain. Is the child I played with today, read to, and taught subtraction going to be better off because I was here? What is better off anyway? Is it happy? Is it financially independent? Are any of the students learning something useful from my classes and charlas? What is useful anyway? Of course, the list of questions goes on.
I think most Peace Corps volunteers are here because we want to make the world a better place. I’m 6 months in Paraguay, and 4 in site, and I’ve come to realize I’m not going to know if I change the world when I swear out. And that makes me doubt that being here is worthwhile. Yet, despite this doubt I tell myself that it’s better to stay. Why?
The biggest Peace Corps project is you. Improving yourself and expanding your drive to keep looking for ways to help the world is reason enough to muddle through the hours of doubt. The long, silent nights and days actively being friendly to everyone change you. You think a lot. You doubt a lot. You dream a lot. You hope with every fiber that when all is said and done, you did your part to make the world a better place.