2006.04.24: April 24, 2006: Headlines: COS- Belize: Centralohio.com: Katy Redd served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Belize: Peace Corps Belize : The Peace Corps in Belize: 2006.04.24: April 24, 2006: Headlines: COS- Belize: Centralohio.com: Katy Redd served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize

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Katy Redd served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize

Katy Redd served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize

"Almost two years ago I joined the United States Peace Corps with the vague and somewhat naïve hope of helping the world. I was sent to Belize to serve in a rural village of Guatemalan refugees to teach and establish a library. The village, named 7 Miles, is located seven miles up a winding, rocky, trench-filled road in the dense jungle of Belize. I was thrilled when I first visited the place I'd be living for two years. I was excited to be having the "real" Peace Corps experience: no electricity or indoor plumbing. I moved into a little concrete block house and had to kick out the bats, mice, spiders, scorpions, and bugs who were the former residents."

Katy Redd served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize

Learning occurs when we stretch our comfort zone

By KATY REDD
Special to The Marion Star

Editor's Note:This week's edition of the Your Story comes courtesy of a local resident and is the second installment of her story. Katy Redd is a Peace Corps Volunteer operating in Belize, and took time to get back to civilization and modern technology to type up a message for local readers on how she is doing. She first wrote to us about a year ago, and here's an update.

I'm still not sure what to say when people ask me what it's like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I usually respond with some generic comment like, "Oh, it's been great, very eye-opening."

Summing up two years of life is never easy. To quantify the way of life, the stories, all of the times I thought I couldn't make it, is to tell only part of the story.

Almost two years ago I joined the United States Peace Corps with the vague and somewhat naïve hope of helping the world. I was sent to Belize to serve in a rural village of Guatemalan refugees to teach and establish a library. The village, named 7 Miles, is located seven miles up a winding, rocky, trench-filled road in the dense jungle of Belize. I was thrilled when I first visited the place I'd be living for two years. I was excited to be having the "real" Peace Corps experience: no electricity or indoor plumbing. I moved into a little concrete block house and had to kick out the bats, mice, spiders, scorpions, and bugs who were the former residents.

The days began to stretch on as my work began to take shape in the village.

I started working in the school until gradually we had a library and I could shift my focus to literacy for the children and adults. Benjamin Harrison Elementary School, with the help of Principal Steve Andrews, sent many boxes of books to help build the village library.

I was the only volunteer in the conservative village of 500. My days began early, around 5:30 a.m. after a few rounds of rooster crows. As I was deciding what to make for breakfast, the local village men put on their rubber boots with machete in hand and headed to work on the farms. The women made breakfast for their families of five or 10 or 20 and began gathering up the laundry for the time-consuming task of hand-washing each piece of clothing for the family and hanging it out to dry.

The days were sometimes unbearably hot. During the middle of the day, when the men were still out in the fields, the rest of the village stayed in the

shade and tried to stay cool without fans or air conditioning. In the evenings the villagers busied themselves with the goings on of church. Five nights a week everyone would put on their best clothes and head to the church for some loud soul-shaking praising.

There were times when I wasn't sure if I could do it any longer. One time our water, piped in from a waterfall behind the village, stopped working for 3 days. All of the villagers hiked to an old Mayan well and bathed their whole families and then instructed their children to haul water back to the house.

As a Volunteer I was not able to own or drive a car, and the public transportation consists of old school buses from the United States. Long days waiting for and then riding the buses in the heat began to wear on me.

I remember a night when I ran out of kerosene for my lantern and sat in the dark for an hour because it was still too early for bed. There was the time it rained for 10 days straight and our village road became a festering of mud. My latrine quickly filled with water from the supersaturated ground. These were the times I longed for an indoor shower, a flush toilet, some lights to turn on, even a TV to entertain me for a couple of hours.

But for each of these experiences, I realized that everyone else in a village of 500 was experiencing the same things but magnified because they had a family depending on them. They couldn't go back to the comfort of the United States in two years. I was just one person trying to adjust my American values and ways of doing things to a foreign culture, trying to teach something to the locals. And the truth, as I've come to realize, is that I have been taught far more than I taught.

I was taught how to take things easy. When the village flooded and my neighbors' dirt floor became a mud floor, they laughed it off instead of stressing out and finding someone to blame. When the bus system was down, people just didn't go where they wanted to go and found other things to do. They didn't yell at the bus drivers or complain hysterically, they dealt with the situation.

I was taught how to share. I come from a small family and though I wasn't handed everything I wanted, I never really had to truly share. In my village, when offering a child something, the first thing he does instinctively is break off a piece for his brother or sister. My neighbors are constantly giving me carrots, cabbage, oranges, tomatoes, extra food. I've come to be more observant in my own habits and try not to be wasteful when I know that many are hungry and needing.

I've also learned about community, about how to leave peacefully and humbly. The largest house in my village is about the size of a great room in an upper-middle class home. And that house is home to 13 people. Without television and in a warm climate, people spend the bulk of their day outside and don't need a large indoor space for doing much more than sleeping.

I cannot sum it up in an article; I can only tell stories and show pictures. I can hope that other people will get to have this kind of learning experience. Learning occurs, I'm convinced, when we put ourselves in situations that stretch our comfort zone. Of course working overseas is an eye-opening experience, but you can open your eyes anywhere, even in Marion, Ohio.

Volunteering at a soup kitchen or working with underprivileged youth and asking yourself, "Why are they homeless? Why are they underprivileged?" can go a long way to making the world a better place and understanding your role in our increasingly global society. I know that I have not changed the world. I haven't even changed 500 people. But they have changed me.

Originally published April 24, 2006





When this story was posted in May 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


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PCOL Comment: Director Vasquez, let us be the first to thank you for your service to the Peace Corps, congratulate you on your new appointment, and wish you good luck in your future endeavors. Although we have had our differences over the years and we opposed your nomination in 2001, we think you are leaving a solid legacy of accomplishment and have served the Peace Corps well.

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Story Source: Centralohio.com

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