February 7, 2003 - Billings Gazzette: PCV Shannon Ewert teaches in Guyana
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February 7, 2003 - Billings Gazzette: PCV Shannon Ewert teaches in Guyana
PCV Shannon Ewert teaches in Guyana
Caption:Shannon Ewert of Billings, posing in white hat with sunglasses with Guyanese children, arrived in the South American country eight months ago on a Peace Corps mission. The 26-year-old teacher, a native of Billings and graduate of the University of Montana, did not know what to expect when she arrived. “The one thing that I was certain of was that I had embarked on a journey that would change my life,” she writes.
Read and comment on this story from the Billings Gazzette on PCV Shannon Ewert who teaches in Guyana. "I celebrate every minute I am here. I cherish the lessons I learn, the relationships I am building and the opportunity to grow. I look forward to fulfilling the Peace Corps goals, but I know that when I return home I will be the one that has gotten the most from this opportunity. To open your eyes and your heart to the world is the most valuable lesson, one I hope to continue to teach and one that I hope to continue learning. " she says. Read the story at:
Life as a Peace Corps volunteer opens eyes of Billings woman*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Life as a Peace Corps volunteer opens eyes of Billings woman
By SHANNON EWERT
For the Gazette
For the most part, Shannon Ewert is a typical 26-year old.
After graduating from Billings Skyview, she went on to the University of Montana and got her degree in theater.
Eager to chart her own course in life, she moved to Los Angeles were she did what her mother Linda says was all the "cool stuff." Her life was filled with arts, entertainment and she even worked at The House of Blues on Sunset Strip.
"I think she found all that lacking," Linda says. "She began looking for something with a little more meaning in it."
What she found was the Peace Corps.
Shannon's mother says she isn't too surprised about the choice to join the Peace Corps. Linda says Shannon loves to travel and she enjoyed the two years the family spent in Guatemala when Shannon was nine.
What follows is Shannon's view on her life teaching life skills to students in Guyana, South America.
The motives for joining the Peace Corps are as varied as the people who serve: no two are alike.
Two years of our lives will be committed to serving as a volunteer in a developing country. Each person comes to their placement with their own personal expectations and aspirations of what they desire to accomplish.
Every volunteer undergoes an extensive application process; filling out form after form and then waiting for the clearance and acceptance to be sent off to some final destination. This destination will be their home for the next two years. Hands full of literature, many phone calls, and a final orientation session takes place within the United States to help prepare the volunteer for this experience, but nothing can totally prepare you. Nor can you describe what each individual feels as they begin the journey.
"The Peace Corps Act is the source of the three goals that define the Peace Corps Mission:
* To help the people of interested countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained men and women;
* To help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of the peoples served;
* To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.
Behind this mission lies the one common aspiration that unites each volunteer - a search for understanding. What happens as each goal is met with varying degrees of is a better understanding of one's self.
I arrived in Guyana, South America eight months ago. I didn't know what to expect. All that I knew about the country and what I would be doing there were some elementary facts that were given to me as in a travel brochure without pictures. Overwhelmed by a wide range of emotions, the one thing that I was certain of was that I had embarked on a journey that would change my life.
The change has begun.
It is not some dramatic transformation of a "before/Shannon" and an "after/Shannon." Rather it is a change that occurs when blessed with the insight of a new and different perspective. The only noticeable change - to me - is a title placed before my name. I am "Miss" Shannon or just "Miss."
It was difficult for me to become accustomed to hearing such a formality attached to me. This assumes responsibility, respect and status.
It took me awhile to step into those shoes. Now I am comfortable with my new identity. I'm the white girl who lives in house across the road from the school. I am a teacher. I am a part of my community. This is my home.
After finishing my first term of teaching and making it through the holidays with my first case of homesickness, I have found that this place and the addition to my name are a part who I am now. I am succeeding in the acclimation process the Peace Corps literature speaks of. So the work begins.
I teach Life Skills to students' ages 11-16. Throughout my two years, I will cover communications; decision-making; adolescent sexuality and reproductive health. How to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and the spread of HIV/AIDS is a vital and difficult topic that I will also explore with my students.
The lessons that I have learned along my path in life and have taken for granted have become tools for my teaching. I face many challenges and obstacles; limited resources, a daunting illiteracy problem and a generation of teachers who still believe that corporal punishment is the best way to discipline unruly students.
All my struggles fail in comparison to what my students carry on their shoulders and into the classroom. They greet me with smiles and a "good afternoon" despite the poverty, despite the lashes, despite the odds they have to beat just to survive. They are my inspiration.
Some days I have a hard time deciphering who is teaching whom.
Before I arrived in Guyana, I had no formal training as a teacher. I have a bachelor's of fine arts degree in drama/acting from the University of Montana. As someone who was once fearless in front of people, I found myself terrified to stand before a group of teenagers and teach them how to put on a condom. As my relationship with my students grows stronger my fears are put at ease.
I find that my differences are my best assets as a teacher. I have found no solutions to my dilemmas; rather I've discovered the thrills of inspiration over something as simple as the enthusiasm of playing an alphabet game. Small steps are a necessity in a slow paced environment where "just now" means anywhere from the next 15 minutes to the next day or the next couple months.
The Peace Corps experience is more than just the work you do. I live along the Essequibo Coast where one road carries you from one stelling (dock) town to another, connecting many small farming communities along the way. One side of the road is a landscape of beautiful rice fields and the other is the Atlantic Ocean. All complimented by a starry night sky and the friendly coconut trees waving their palm leaves.
My Guyanese friends invite me to their homes and cook up a mix of Creole and East Indian dishes. I go to market and buy fresh produce and whatever else I might need for the week. I exercise with a student in the mornings as the sun rises. I burn my trash in the yard, wash my clothes by hand and summon lizards to hang out in my house as bug control. That is why I am here, to teach and be a part of a culture so different from my own.
I celebrate every minute I am here. I cherish the lessons I learn, the relationships I am building and the opportunity to grow. I look forward to fulfilling the Peace Corps goals, but I know that when I return home I will be the one that has gotten the most from this opportunity. To open your eyes and your heart to the world is the most valuable lesson, one I hope to continue to teach and one that I hope to continue learning.
About the Peace Corps
The Peace Corps has its roots in January 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged a new generation of Americans to join "a grand and global alliance ... to fight tyranny, poverty, disease and war."
The program was authorized by Congress in March of 1961.
Since the program was begun, more than 165,000 people have volunteered to serve in 136 countries.
Here is how the current program breaks down:
* Current number of volunteers: 6,678
* Current number of countries involved: 70
* Gender breakdown: 61% female, 39% male.
* Marital status: 91% single, 9% married.
* Average age: 28
* Education: 86%have undergraduate degrees, 12% have graduate studies/degrees
* Volunteers by sector: 32% education; 21% health; 18% environment; 14% business; 9% agriculture; 6% other.
More about Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Guyana
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; PCVs in the Field; COS - Guyana; Special Interests - Education
By kristenhare on Friday, March 07, 2003 - 10:58 am: Edit Post|
Remember, the water's not blue everywhere
By KRISTEN HARE
National Peace Corps Day reminds one American that we don't know it all.
"Hi, my name is Kristen, and I was a Peace Corps volunteer."
It's kind of like recovery, coming back to the states after two years in a developing country.
There's a lot of relearning and remembering involved in picking up pace with the American way of life.
I don't have to worry if I have enough rainwater to drink or to bathe.
Wal-Mart is always open, so I don't have to worry that I'll miss the weekly outdoor market and eat crackers for a week.
And having my own little car, I've almost forgotten the daily death ride in the minibuses I used to ride.
But I have not forgotten my work in Guyana.
Clive was one of the students I had a hard time with. He was full of energy (teenage boys are teenage boys, wherever you are), and could not read.
To fill our time at the end of class, I'd give my students crayons or markers and ask them to dream a little on their paper.
One afternoon, I walked by Clive, deeply involved in his picture.
He was drawing a small, wooden speedboat like those we all used to cross the huge Essequibo River to reach our village. His father owned a boat, and Clive spent weekends by his side, working the boats, playing dominoes and hollering at women.
"Clive, you're picture looks great," I said. "But you made a mistake here." I pointed to the water he was coloring. "The water is blue, not brown."
He looked at me as if I had just announced that later we'd be walking on our eyelids.
"No, Miss," he said, patiently. "The water is brown."
I began to protest, when I realized he was right.
The water was brown.
At the basin of the Amazon, the wide Essequibo was flooded constantly with mud and silt, leaving the water a cinnamon soup.
In fact, all the water in Guyana was this color.
Blue water was the stuff of American movies.
When President John F. Kennedy proposed that young Americans spread their knowledge and skills, the Peace Corps was born.
Since 1961, more than 165,000 people have served in more than 130 countries around the world to be part of "... a grand and global alliance ... to fight tyranny, poverty, disease, and war ..."
Friday marked the 42nd-annual National Peace Corps Day, and all week I've dreamt of mangoes, hammocks and huge green rice fields as the snow outside gets grimy and black.
Of its three goals, I think the third one is Peace Corps' most valuable.
It is: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
In his speech, President Kennedy said, "To those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves."
But in the end, those hut people schooled me something fierce.
It would be easy to draw conclusions about war and judgments about American foreign policy with Iraq here.
So I won't.
But I have learned that the wise and great in the world are not those with the most money, power or belongings.
They are the ones who understand that just because our oceans are blue, not everyone else's are, nor do they have to be.