16 April 2008

It seemed we had been given just enough time together during pre-service training to grow close to one another, when we were dispersed again, one by one across the country. Now, for two weeks, Peace Corps in-service training has brought us all back together again.

It has been a challenging and rather uncertain three months at our sites, as volunteers, PC staff, and local counterparts alike continue to feel our way, by trial and error and much debate and discussion, through this brand new program. Now assembled again, volunteers are glad to draw strength and support from one another, swapping stories, sharing laughter over our more ridiculous moments, and commiserating with our common struggles. In some ways, it is reassuring to know that the hardships and obstacles I face at my site are not necessarily unique to me. In other ways, though, it has been sobering to see how deep and wide some of these challenges run.

It has been a profound and significant three months, as well, and it is obvious that we are not the same group of people that boarded those buses to move out to our sites. The changes we have undergone, moreover, are not just limited to the darker tans, tougher stomachs, and subtle incorporations of habisha fashions and phrases into our everyday lives. There is a new recognition of our personal strengths and a willingness to assume roles that utilize them. There is a new appreciation of a trust in the strengths of our peers. There is a new confidence in our ability to create positive change – both inside our assigned communities and inside our Peace Corps community – and a new determination to do so.

There is one obvious change amongst us, however, that is not so welcome. It cannot be overlooked that the face of our group has also been changed by the departures of some of our members. Of the forty-two of us that swore in as volunteers, four have gone home and one is on the way, due to a mixture of administrative, medical, and personal reasons. They were colleagues and friends and important pieces of this society we have built together as volunteers, and now they are greatly missed. The departures are not limited to volunteers, either, with two main office staff members leaving Ethiopia to work with Peace Corps programs in other countries.

If these is one thing that has been made clear to us during these two weeks together, it is that we are strong people who are growing stronger every day through this experience, and that we will rely on this strength – our own and each others' – in our living and working here for two years.

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