September 1, 2002: Headlines: COS - Tuvalu: Minnesota Returned Volunteers: RPCV Vicki Dilley returns to Tuvalu

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tuvalu: The Peace Corps in Tuvalu: September 1, 2002: Headlines: COS - Tuvalu: Minnesota Returned Volunteers: RPCV Vicki Dilley returns to Tuvalu

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Monday, January 17, 2005 - 10:18 pm: Edit Post

RPCV Vicki Dilley returns to Tuvalu

RPCV Vicki Dilley returns to Tuvalu

RPCV Vicki Dilley returns to Tuvalu

My goodness, time flies when you have a life, and 19 years have gone by since I physically returned to the life I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer. Peace Corps has never left the mental and spiritual side of me. I changed because of Peace Corps.

In 1980 my young husband and I left for the tiny island country of Tuvalu, located in the Central Pacific. Take your finger straight up from Fiji and before hitting the equator look for some indication of a tiny island nation called Tuvalu. Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, just after the Vatican, Monaco and Nauru, but in my mind one of the most important nations for what they could teach us about peace, harmony and tolerance. After living there, I always ask myself if I am being as generous and tolerant as a Tuvaluan.

We fell in love with these people and learned to call this tiny two by three mile island our home for three and half years. In 1983 we gave a tearful good-bye to our family and friends on the island and promised to one day return.

In the meantime, we had babies, bought a house, got jobs and found our resources too limited to do more than dream about going back. We often dreamt out loud though and our young daughter, Riana, grew up hearing stories about these people we cared so much about and this tiny island we had once called home. Frequently she would ask "when are we going to Tuvalu?" And we would always say, "Someday."

Some day didnít come, until a good friend of mine lost her daughter in a motorcycle accident. I realized that some things just should not wait. Riana and I decided we could go, and planned the "pilgrimage" as she called it. After all, she was going to see the woman she was named after.

In mid June we left for a five and a half week trip. We excitedly arrived in Fiji, a shock for Riana. At the food market, she first saw only the dirtiness and poverty. I knew Tuvalu would present an even bigger shock. I told Riana to look at the faces of the people, how happy and comfortable they are with each other, how they happily greet us. I told her to overlook their dress, their shanty houses, the emaciated dogs on the street. I remembered my similar reaction when we first arrived in Fiji. Now I saw it again through my daughterís eyes.

The heat would only grow more intense the closer we got to the equator. I had booked two nights in Fiji in a cheap hostel with no air conditioning and a shared bathroom like Lee and I had always done before on our small Peace Corps stipend. I hoped this would be a transition from our very comfortable Northfield home to more rustic living in the Pacific. Monday morning we boarded a small plane to land on the capital island, Funafuti. At the airport, many happy Tuvaluans chattered away while I tried hard to find a familiar face while going through customs. Faces peered around the corner and soon there was a man telling me "Fakamolemole, faitali i konei, ko vau Lasiani"...please wait Lasaini is coming. My sister, Lasiani knew I was coming and had told us we were to stay at her house, but wasnít she at the airport. Later I learned that she was too excited to wait there, and was busily preparing her very tiny house. Getting off of the plane, I felt surprised at how similar things looked and how I could still understand when they spoke to me in Tuvaluan.

Though the heat and poverty were more intense, the people were ever so happy to see us, and to tell me how much older and fatter that I looked! As a skinny volunteer, they had encouraged me to eat to become fat. (kai ke fula). Now, I had finally become a plump Polynesian beauty! It was a joy to see people on the streets and hear them yell with glee, "Vicki! I canít believe it is you!" Some told me how I had changed their lives. Some students that I tutored in English now worked successful government jobs and had traveled abroad. It seemed like they had waited all this time to tell me of their success, and to thank me. Transportation to the outer islands had gotten worse since we left in 1983. In the early 80ís Britain had subsidized a sea- plane service to the outer islands and took us back and forth from our own little island of Vaitupu (Tuvalu is made up of eight islands with a total land mass of 10 square miles). The country has only two cargo boats and the most recent arrived in February. The old boat was in dry dock in Fiji during our visit and strong winds prevented the new boat from traveling to the outer islands, so we were stuck on the capital for a week. Finally after a six-hour voyage to Vaitupu, we arrived around midnight and my heart raced as I was filled with dream-like senses from years past: the smell of the island, the moon-lit images, the sounds of the breeze. A few of our family members met us and carried our suitcases (so much for wheels) over the reef and onto the sand. Our familyís home was totally different, with no more thatched roofs, woven walls or openness. Frequent storms over the last couple of decades had forced people to build more permanent, replaceable homes with help from the government. News reports said global warming could be causing the strong winds and bad storms. The next day I walked around the village and captured joy and excitement with my video camera. Always they asked about Lee, and when he would visit. Sometimes people mistook Riana for me. I once had that youthful figure and long blonde hair. But she quickly pointed in my direction and said "that is Vicki". Though she didnít understand the language, she learned to communicate with the kids. After they got over the initial shock of seeing a white person up close, they soon hung on her and played with her. This is when I think she began to open her heart to Tuvalu and see how special it is.

I took note of what had changed, what had not, what we had tried to change. The water tanks we taught them to build were still there. In fact they built more and bigger tanks! The village had so much water I would think that the days of hauling rationed water was a mere memory for some. The smokeless stoves and sinks with sanitary soak pits were gone, mothers were bottle feeding, formula and disposable diapers were available in the store! The fish ponds were no longer being used and the coconut oil expelling plant for soap making was barely surviving. Lee had worked so hard on this project with a grant from Save the Children. I wondered what we had accomplished.

The night before we left, the island women put on a huge feast and dance for us, their honored guests. They made many thankful speeches and we reminisced about the fun we had building the sinks, stoves and water tanks. Yet, I wondered why they fussed over sinks and stoves no longer there. One person spoke about the stories that had been told over the years about this young American couple who had come to live amongst them, learned their language, loved their food, danced with them and worked with them. I realized then it didnít matter what we built. Earthly things are transient in Tuvalu, but the people and their hearts are constant. We had made our way into their hearts years ago. Now we carried them in our hearts too. We had lived in their stories, and they had come back to America with us in our stories.

Our trip had many physical challenges to it, but the part that was easy was revisiting old friends that we will never forget. Since coming home, our Tuvaluan brother has told me that he was forever changed since our visit, he realized how important we were to all of them and no one has changed Tuvalu as much as we had since our leaving.

Taking this trip with my daughter was a real privilege. She experienced so much of what we had told her about. She heard how much her parents were appreciated and she fell in love with these people as we had. Before we left she asked if we could stay longer since "we know people here." Unfortunately, we could not and we said tearful good-byes again.

I believe in Peace Corps so much! I am still an idealist following my heart, which tells me that world peace will not come with food relief that coincides with bombing. It will come at the village level, with people looking into the eyes of those different from them, sleeping, working and laughing together to make this world a better place. Thanks! Fafetai lasi! Vicki Dilley, Tuvalu 80-83

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Coleman: Peace Corps mission and expansion Date: January 8 2005 No: 373 Coleman: Peace Corps mission and expansion
Senator Norm Coleman, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee that oversees the Peace Corps, says in an op-ed, A chance to show the world America at its best: "Even as that worthy agency mobilizes a "Crisis Corps" of former Peace Corps volunteers to assist with tsunami relief, I believe an opportunity exists to rededicate ourselves to the mission of the Peace Corps and its expansion to touch more and more lives."
RPCVs active in new session of Congress Date: January 8 2005 No: 374 RPCVs active in new session of Congress
In the new session of Congress that begins this week, RPCV Congressman Tom Petri has a proposal to bolster Social Security, Sam Farr supported the objection to the Electoral College count, James Walsh has asked for a waiver to continue heading a powerful Appropriations subcommittee, Chris Shays will no longer be vice chairman of the Budget Committee, and Mike Honda spoke on the floor honoring late Congressman Robert Matsui.

January 8, 2005: This Week's Top Stories Date: January 8 2005 No: 367 January 8, 2005: This Week's Top Stories
Zambia RPCV Karla Berg interviews 1,374 people on Peace 7 Jan
Breaking Taboo, Mandela Says Son Died of AIDS 6 Jan
Dreadlocked PCV raises eyebrows in Africa 6 Jan
RPCV Jose Ravano directs CARE's efforts in Sri Lanka 6 Jan
Persuading Retiring Baby Boomers to Volunteer 6 Jan
Inventor of "Drown Proofing" retires 6 Jan
NPCA Membership approves Board Changes 5 Jan
Timothy Shriver announces "Rebuild Hope Fund" 5 Jan
More Water Bottles, Fewer Bullets 4 Jan
Poland RPCV Rebecca Parker runs Solterra Books 2 Jan
Peace Corps Fund plans event for September 30 Dec
RPCV Carmen Bailey recounts bout with cerebral malaria 28 Dec
more top stories...

RPCVs and Peace Corps provide aid  Date: January 4 2005 No: 366 Latest: RPCVs and Peace Corps provide aid
Peace Corps made an appeal last week to all Thailand RPCV's to consider serving again through the Crisis Corps and more than 30 RPCVs have responded so far. RPCVs: Read what an RPCV-led NGO is doing about the crisis an how one RPCV is headed for Sri Lanka to help a nation he grew to love. Question: Is Crisis Corps going to send RPCVs to India, Indonesia and nine other countries that need help?
The World's Broken Promise to our Children Date: December 24 2004 No: 345 The World's Broken Promise to our Children
Former Director Carol Bellamy, now head of Unicef, says that the appalling conditions endured today by half the world's children speak to a broken promise. Too many governments are doing worse than neglecting children -- they are making deliberate, informed choices that hurt children. Read her op-ed and Unicef's report on the State of the World's Children 2005.
Changing of the Guard Date: December 15 2004 No: 330 Changing of the Guard
With Lloyd Pierson's departure, Marie Wheat has been named acting Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations responsible for the day-to-day management of the Peace Corps. Although Wheat is not an RPCV and has limited overseas experience, in her two years at the agency she has come to be respected as someone with good political skills who listens and delegates authority and we wish her the best in her new position.
Our debt to Bill Moyers Our debt to Bill Moyers
Former Peace Corps Deputy Director Bill Moyers leaves PBS next week to begin writing his memoir of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Read what Moyers says about journalism under fire, the value of a free press, and the yearning for democracy. "We have got to nurture the spirit of independent journalism in this country," he warns, "or we'll not save capitalism from its own excesses, and we'll not save democracy from its own inertia."
RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack RPCV safe after Terrorist Attack
RPCV Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, the U.S. consul general in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia survived Monday's attack on the consulate without injury. Five consular employees and four others were killed. Abercrombie-Winstanley, the first woman to hold the position, has been an outspoken advocate of rights for Arab women and has met with Saudi reformers despite efforts by Saudi leaders to block the discussions.
Is Gaddi Leaving? Is Gaddi Leaving?
Rumors are swirling that Peace Corps Director Vasquez may be leaving the administration. We think Director Vasquez has been doing a good job and if he decides to stay to the end of the administration, he could possibly have the same sort of impact as a Loret Ruppe Miller. If Vasquez has decided to leave, then Bob Taft, Peter McPherson, Chris Shays, or Jody Olsen would be good candidates to run the agency. Latest: For the record, Peace Corps has no comment on the rumors.
The Birth of the Peace Corps The Birth of the Peace Corps
UMBC's Shriver Center and the Maryland Returned Volunteers hosted Scott Stossel, biographer of Sargent Shriver, who spoke on the Birth of the Peace Corps. This is the second annual Peace Corps History series - last year's speaker was Peace Corps Director Jack Vaughn.

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Story Source: Minnesota Returned Volunteers

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