I've held the dream of serving in the Peace Corps closely to my heart for nearly 20 years. It seemed fitting, then, that I held back tears on my first morning at Woza Moya. As I swayed to the enchanting rhythm of the staff singing in our Morning Circle, I gazed at each of the faces of my new colleagues and took in the expanse of the Ufafa Valley behind them, finding it hard to believe that my long-held dream was now my reality and would be for the next two years.
The warm welcome I've received from the Woza Moya staff, my host family and the community members with whom I've interacted has eased my transition into rural village life. Relationship-building with elementary Zulu skills isn't easy! In all my travel, Ufafa Valley easily ranks as one of the most gorgeous places on the planet and I am lucky to live here. I very much look forward to the unfolding of these next two years, the contributions I may make and the growth I'll experience. I'm honored to share my skill-set, open-heartedness, curiosity, love of service and belief in the power of the human spirit with Woza Moya and the Ufafa Valley.
For more on Megan read her Aspiration Statement:
A: My prospective service as a Community HIV Outreach Volunteer with the Peace Corps in South Africa fulfills a dream I've embraced for half my life. The education, experience and tools I've accumulated over two decades have nurtured the dream and readied me for the challenges that the Peace Corps engenders. Effective collaboration, innovation and a holistic perspective are three distinct attributes that will actualize my aspirations and commitment to Peace Corps service.
Effective collaboration has served as a key foundational element throughout my career. As a Social Worker and Coach, relationship-building, particularly when part of a multi-disciplinary team, is essential for collaboration and vital for the success of any project, endeavor, referral or recommendation. Effective collaboration involves listening, trust-building, cooperation, flexibility and relinquishing pride. Effective collaboration likewise serves as the cornerstone for the Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers. In order to impact the quality of the lives of the people I live and work alongside, I must effectively collaborate with the community, with leaders and organizations and with each individual I encounter.
As a Community Health Volunteer, collaboration lies directly at the heart of grassroots efforts. Collaboration combines a process of give and take and a spirit of cooperation. Particularly during challenging times, collaboration forgoes the solitary burden of failure or success and recruits a team-approach, allowing for greater perspective. Perspective, rather than myopia, leads to sustainable change.
Change is also garnered through innovation, taking creative approaches to working and living. Peace Corps Service will be an entirely new experience in which I will adapt to new expectations, situations and environments. From community needs to my own living conditions, innovation will be constant. Innovation, as a generative force, will invite new ideas to develop new projects and initiatives. Societal issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty and HIV prevention require innovation in order to devise new solutions.
When working from a holistic perspective, critical information may be delivered in a new way, increasing adherence and teaching tangible skill-building to address these social problems. Taking into account all the environments and internal and external systems under which individuals, groups, organizations and communities operate is paramount to gain an accurate understanding of challenges and needs. Maintaining a holistic perspective in the face of economic, racial and gender disparities, particularly when working with vulnerable populations, is central in recognizing strengths. This holistic perspective, therefore, is essential for a Peace Corps Volunteer during the training periods and throughout service.
I recognize the challenges presented to the mind, body and spirit of Peace Corps Volunteers. My holistic perspective stems from education and training in yoga, meditation and the healing arts, which have spurred my self care, promoted my internal and physical balance and bolstered my heartiness. This foundation of a holistic perspective will likewise embolden me to overcome the physical, intellectual and emotional rigors of Peace Corps service. Innovation will energize and inspire on many levels and fuel effective collaboration with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, site staff and clients and those in my future community.
B: Two strategies for working effectively with host country partners include listening and approaching with open-mindedness. As a Volunteer, my first priority is to listen not only to identify needs, but also to build relationships, which are key to workplace and community success. Through listening, one enables space for another person to share their perspective, their needs and their vision. Through listening, one may also attune to roles, dynamics and nuances of culture, power and emotions. By choosing to listen, rather than immediately act, one allows another person to feel heard. By allowing another person to feel heard, you inherently empower them. For a Peace Corps Volunteer, listening both to the successes and challenges of a project establishes a baseline and the participatory needs-based assessment necessary for an action plan for service.
Approaching my 27 months of service with an open mind is important in order to work effectively with host country partners. As the modern day legacy of the apartheid has profoundly affected the dynamics of the workplace, it is vital to ensure that I am patient and approach feedback and relationships with a spirit of open-mindedness. Nurturing these relationships over time, acknowledging an eagerness to learn and approaching the host country partner's vision of their future as supreme are all ways to practice an open mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. Modeling an open mind sets the stage for collaboration. Collaboration is key to establish lasting and sustainable change.
C: Throughout my life, I've sought out opportunities to grow my cultural competency. In high school, I lived with a Thai family and adapted to their customs and practices. Studying for a month in Korea as an Undergraduate was my first time adapting to a new culture abroad. I quickly learned to make adjustments to my appearance and behavior to assimilate as much as a 5'7" light-skinned, light-haired blue-eyed woman can in Asia. Since then, I've traveled extensively, both domestically and abroad, and have had the opportunity to relocate throughout the United States several times. My ability to acclimate to new cultures has been tested and proven, though this experience with the Peace Corps will be unique.
Relying on RPCVs and friends who have traveled and lived in South Africa, I will continue to gain insight into the behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, history and taboos of modern South Africa. From there, I will integrate those learnings, along with those learned during PST, and live accordingly. There may be different beliefs or practices in my village or workplace and I will be cognizant and sensitive to culture throughout my service.
D: During my Pre-Service Training, I aim to actively practice the 5 attributes and strategies outlined above: effective collaboration, innovation, holistic perspective, listening and open-mindedness to absorb as much information as possible for successful service in South Africa. This includes language and cultural proficiency, insights into the Community HIV Outreach Project and the tools of assessment as well as growing the confidence necessary to enter my community. I would also like to gain deep insight into successes and challenges of Peace Corps Volunteers in South Africa, including project and site wins and challenges.
E: My life purpose is service. Learning my purpose at an early age fostered active volunteer work, the collegiate pursuit of degrees in Social Work and Sociology and a career in the helping profession. I'm curious about the influence my Peace Corps service will have on my life. I'm open to the direction in which it takes me, though I know that service, in some form, will be my life's course. From my first trip abroad, the seeds of wanderlust were sown and I imagine for myself a life of travel. I envision my skillset, both soft skills and technical skills, flourishing throughout my time in South Africa. Rather than enter this endeavor with a rigid idea of my plans post-Peace Corps service, I choose to serve with an open heart and mind, knowing that this experience will shape me in all the ways it is meant to.
I've most often found myself, by choice or by fate, working primarily with women and girls throughout my career. From my first post-undergraduate position promoting self-sufficiency among female heads of household to my most recently-held position as a Coach easing the transitions to college for both female Saudi Arabian students and first-generation, first-year female Pell grant recipients, I believe strongly in empowering women through education. Incredibly inspired by the work of Let Girls Learn, I'm honored to utilize the gender-responsive expertise that I've cultivated in my varied service capacities to my prospective work in South Africa. I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue my work with women and girls in South Africa and am excited to see the impact this work will have on my personal and professional lives.
For more information on Megan's background you can dowload her resume