The New Year signals new beginnings; hence we all make resolutions that many break within a month. For some of us in the PC family this year really signified a new beginning. Four of us moved sites with the start of 2013 due to various reasons. For me, moving to a new site about half-way through service has been a mix of positives and increased challenges.
When people first asked what I thought about moving sites I didn’t know how to answer. At times it felt like going up a hill on a roller coaster. Even if you’ve been on it before, you get excited for the thrill of the upcoming drop. On the other hand I felt like I was a character in the old Mortal Kombat video games with the announcer yelling “Round 2. FIGHT!” And you know what? Both of them turned out to be pretty accurate.
Let me just start off by saying that PC is right when thinking a site change should be one of the last resorts to aid volunteers in their service. Yes, there may be instances where it has to happen which can vary from programmatic to security, but having changed sites I do firmly believe it should not be a first choice. Not only is changing sites a hassle logistically, but it also takes a toll on the volunteer.
1. Being homeless. Changing sites won’t happen overnight. Most of us who changed recently were living in Gabs (guesthouses, house sits and Kgale View) for at least a month. Living out of a bag for a few days in a lodge is nice. Doing it for weeks on end is taxing. Yet this only hints at the emotional toll of moving villages.
2. Saying goodbye. Even if nearly everything is going bad at site, there are still a few people or things you have grown fond of in your village. These things/people are part of what we use for support and comfort. You have to let them go. For me, I enjoyed the work I was doing with the kids at my school, and had some good relationships with a few teachers I worked with. And now I have to rebuild those structures in Gamodubu.
3. Starting over. At least for me, changing at half-way, it seemed all of the projects I started in Kaudwane finally were getting going. The school garden had gone from non-existent to having over 20 growing plots. The PACT club started meeting even with me gone. And other teachers just started taking up some of the projects I was the lead on. Now, I get to start that whole process over again.
4. Ok. Passing all of that, you now have a site, a house and you get to move. This is exciting if only for the sake of having a place to call home. But then you reach the final hurdle. Understanding people. Even if you didn’t have the best relationship with your counterpart/supervisor/organization, odds are you knew their work styles and how to work with them. Now you have to learn that with new people. You have to go around and reintroduce yourself to everyone; explain who you are and what Peace Corps is. This, combined with hurdle three can make it seem like the time at your first site was wasted.
However, not all is lost! Even if you find yourself starting over, many things are going to be easier this time. You have experience working in an organization, you understand protocol better and you were able to test ideas to gauge what works and what doesn’t. This is invaluable and will aid you in getting up and running.
For example, in Kaudwane it took almost a month to get the PACT club going due to getting permission, recruiting kids, finding a meeting space, and other details. When I got to Gamodubu I knew my hurdles and within one week the school and I started 3 clubs. And remember those programs/ideas/activities that fell flat? I know we all had something just not work. Well, now you know better and can focus on doing those that did work. It’s easy to streamline activities since you already have experience of knowing what failed and what worked. You can cut the bad and focus on making the good better.
While I do think a site change was the best choice for me, it was hard to leave Kaudwane. I will miss the kids and the friends I made. But I’m excited to put what I learned during that year to use in Gamodubu. It all goes with the PC motto of having no expectations. You just have to deal with the hand you are dealt and try to turn that pair of twos into a full house.