Peace Corps Videos

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My New Job

I will be spending the next two years in Vava’u working with both the Tonga Development Bank and the Vava’u Chamber of Commerce. I am very happy with the assignment but also a bit surprised. We had heard that just one business volunteer would be stationed here, which turned out not to be true. Vava’u is a really neat place and getting to work with small business owners in both positions should be both exciting and challenging. My primary job will be at the Development Bank, which I know a little bit about because we had a presentation on it during our initial training on Tongatapu. They provide development loans to small businesses to either start or grow their business. There is currently a volunteer who is working with the Development Bank at the main office in Nuku’alofa and I will actually work there initially for training before moving to Vava’u permanently. (Thankfully, I get to fly; I don’t have to take a boat) The Vava’u Chamber of Commerce is a new organization started earlier this year and that position is ad hoc at this point. There are about 30 member businesses but no office or full-time staff. I’m going to get to know a lot of business owners in the job and that will be exciting for me.

My hope was that I would end up in a business advising role and that is exactly what I got. I really feel like the position is the kind of thing I wanted to do in the Peace Corps. There are several other people from my training group who are also going to be here. Interestingly, James and Stan, who were the first people I met online before we went to staging will also be here along with Janice, Shannon, Katie and Andrew. Amy will be on an outer island in the Vava’u group.


Our program managers each put a folder in front of us with instructions not to open it until they said it was okay. Once we opened it, we all immediately saw where we were going. As you can imagine there were a lot of emotions with some people clearly ecstatic about their locations and others who were not. While I was happy with my assignment, it was sad to hear that many of friends from training would be on other islands and that I wouldn’t get to hang out with them as much.

Getting our site assignments is really the last “planned” surprise in a long series that begins with your original application to join the Peace Corps. First you receive a nomination to a program and region, in my case, a business program in the South Pacific. The next surprise is the invitation, which tells you the country and the specifics of your program. Once you arrive in country, you find out where you will be staying during training and who will be your host family. In Tonga, you have two home stays. Finally, you get your site assignment and find out where you will be living. While I would never suggest there will be no surprises for the next two years, this is really the big one and the one for which you have been preparing since filling out the application.

As you might expect, there have been a lot of rumors for the past two weeks about where everyone is going to go. My favorite was that the Peace Corps only had 28 jobs and there are 33 of us. The logic was that they had expected five of us to quit by now and none have left. Another was that all married couples were going to Tongatapu and that only the most liberal volunteers are sent to the outer islands. None of these were true. A couple of trainees even had a sheet with every trainee’s name on it, trying to guess where each would end up. I don’t know yet how accurate they were with the predictions.

***Other News***

Last week we got a really nice surprise from the current Volunteers in Tonga. They came to our training session to deliver “mail” to us. They said that during training, they missed getting mail like we do. They had written each of us a letter and we each got an envelope of mail containing things like a postcard from a volunteer on an outer island, a page of Sunday comics from the US, some crossword puzzles to do, a discount on a cup of REAL coffee from a coffee shop and some candy. My favorite item was a bookmark with the following quote: “Some people see the glass half empty, some people see the glass half full, a Peace Corps Volunteer sees the glass and says “Hey, I could take a bath in that!” The care package was great and was the first mail I’ve gotten since being here even though I know I have some on the way. It was a nice way to show us that our Peace Corps family is not just the people with whom we are training, but also the other volunteers.

The weather has improved tremendously. Saturday, my host mom and sister took me to the ocean for a swim. I got to try out my snorkel and mask for the first time and saw some really beautiful fish, all very colorful. I even saw a bright blue star fish, or at least I think that is what it was. The water here is incredibly clear. Standing chin deep in the water, I could clearly see my toes and everything around them. The snorkeling was really fantastic in such clear conditions. We finished swimming just as the sun was setting and I got to see my first Tongan sunset before heading home.

We have our first language exam on Friday. I’m hoping to score Intermediate Low, but will be happy if I make it to Novice High. I have to reach Intermediate Middle before I swear in as a volunteer.

***Notes***

If you’ve been reading my posts for a long time, you know that I spent a good bit of time speculating about where I was going. I found out there were just three countries where the Peace Corps has business programs in the South Pacific: Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu. Turns out I was wrong. There is a 4th country with a business program: Fiji. If you get a nomination to a business program in the South Pacific, you will end up going to one of those four places. Of course programs change regularly and there is no guaranteeing that there will continue to just be four countries with business programs. The program here in Tonga has changed since I got my invitation. To be relevant, the Peace Corps has to adapt not only to changing business climates, but also the qualifications of the applicants. The example we were given early in our training was that a country may have a huge need for plumbers and electricians, but very few plumbers and electricians apply to be volunteers so it is not practical to have a plumbing program in a country and the Peace Corps probably couldn’t support it with volunteers.

I’ve uploaded some new pictures, including one of the sunset mentioned above.

4 comments:

  1. Congratulation on your placement. Hope the job is all you wish it to be. Look forward to updates.Good luck on the language exam.

    Stan's Mom
    Myra

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  2. Hi Myra:

    Thanks for the note. Guess you noticed Stan's beard in the photo on the page. Glad he is going to be in Vava'u as well.

    I did fine on the language test but am glad it is over.

    Steve

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  3. Steve, I'm not sure how I got to your blog, but I started my Peace Corps assignment in a small northern provincial capital in Thailand in August 1967. I taught English. When I was back in Thailand last March (for about the fifth or sixth time since my service ended) it was with great pleasure I met a number of my former students who told me how important it was in their lives that I had been their teacher. Sometimes it takes a while to get that feedback. But I also went to the 45 Anniversary of Peace Corps Thailand on that trip and heard the same story from other Peace Corps volunteers. The various towns they were in remembered the names of all the Peace Corps volunteers.

    So, while it may not always seem like it, you are important to the people around you. Best of luck.

    And back here, this week I visited a middle school and shared some of my experiences - and some Thai shirts and pakimas - with the students, and the teacher was amazed at how attentive her problem class was.

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  4. Hi Steve:

    Thanks for sharing such a great story. Going back and meeting some of your former students must have been wonderful.

    The Peace Corps has been in Tonga for 40 years and it is pretty well known. My host parents were talking with me one night about a volunteer they met in the late 1960's. They still remembered, just like you said.

    One of our trainees had a baby named after him. Pretty amazing given the short time we have been here.

    Thanks again!!

    Steve

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