Peace Corps Videos

Monday, November 23, 2009

Steve’s Adventure Ends Today

It’s been more than three years since I first applied to join the Peace Corps and what an adventure it has been.  I filled out my application on September 26, 2006, I arrived in Tonga on October 4, 2007 and today, November 23, 2009, I am leaving Tonga, no longer a Peace Corps volunteer.

Officially, I’m now called an RPCV, or a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, but since I haven’t actually returned yet, it seems a bit strange to use that acronym just yet.

A Video Journal

As of today, I’ve written 160 blog entries about my Peace Corps experience with the vast majority written during my two years of service and my 10 weeks of training.   But written words and still photos only allow me to share a portion of my journey.   Therefore, I decided for my last entry from Tonga, I would share with you a video journal about some of the things I’ve found most interesting and some of the things I’ve done.  The video is little long…almost 16 minutes but I just couldn’t cut anything else out.  I have more than 20 hours of footage, so it was quite an accomplishment to get this down to 16 minutes.  I hope you enjoy it.

I shot almost all of the footage in the video except for the interviews.  Those were shot by my friend Chad and I sincerely appreciate his help.

My Future Plans

When I left my job more than two years ago, I knew that once my Peace Corps service was over, I would be coming back to the USA with no job. That day has now arrived and I can happily say that I am now searching for my next opportunity.  I don’t know what that will be and I don’t have anything lined up.  The good news is that I’m very open to just about anything.  My hope is to find something that I will enjoy as much as I have enjoyed my time in Tonga.  I’m open to all suggestions and would love to hear from you.  All of my contact information and my resume are posted on my personal website at http://www.stephenhunsicker.com/

I’m also asked regularly if I intend to keep writing this blog.  The answer is no.  As much as I have enjoyed writing about my experiences, this is my final post.  I plan to keep the site active for a while to assist any future Peace Corps volunteers who have questions about the application process or about serving in Tonga, but at some point, I’ll stop paying for the domain name and everything I’ve written will go away.

Saying Good-bye
Much of what I've been doing for the past two weeks has involved saying good-bye to all the people I have met in the past two years.  My last three Sundays were spent at different Tongan homes eating umu, which is the traditional Sunday feast.  I have been humbled by the many thanks and gifts that I have received...too many to even begin to mention here.  And I was honored to have not one, not two, but three going away events....two in Vava'u and one at the head office of the Tonga Development Bank. 

The folks at the Vava'u branch of the Bank went "all out" to say good-bye last Thursday, my last day working there.  We had a a lavish morning tea ceremony and some really wonderful gifts. After everyone said their good-byes, we invited customers to come and join us and they helped us eat all the food the staff had prepared.

At our head office on the main island of Tongatapu, the bank put on another tea for me Friday with the managers and staff saying goodbye. In this photo, the Managing Director presents me with a whale carving made of sandalwood.

And on Thursday night, I spent my last few hours in Vava'u hanging out with my fellow volunteers and other friends at the Aquarium Cafe..


A Final Thought

Many years ago, I heard President Ronald Reagan give a speech and in it, he said something like this:  “We are not here to congratulate ourselves on what we have accomplished, but instead to challenge ourselves to accomplish more tomorrow”.  I’ve probably butchered the quote but the sentiment is sound.  As I think about my service in Peace Corps, I hope that this has just been the beginning.  I hope to challenge myself and others to accomplish more in the future.

‘Ofa lahi atu!  (With much love to you)
Steve

UPDATE:  February 17,2010

I worked at WTVC, NewsChannel 9 in Chattanooga for 11 years. After returning back to the USA, I stopped by the station to say hello.   They interviewed me about my Peace Corps experience in Tonga. The station aired the interview over three days on its public affairs program: "This and That with Don Welch".

You can watch all three segments below.





NewsChannel 9 interviews Steve Hunsicker about the Peace Corps .



Have a comment about this post or about Steve’s Peace Corps Adventure?  Click to share your thoughts with Steve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wrapping Things Up

With just over a week remaining for me in Vava’u there isn’t much left for me to do at work.  Today was my final business development workshop, the 20th workshop we’ve done since I’ve been a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga.


The workshops are designed to help Tongans better understand how to run a business and how to keep records.  I estimate that more than 500 Tongans have participated in those 20 workshops.  Some of them, like the woman featured in a video I produced for the bank, have made big improvements because of what they have learned at the workshops.  Hopefully some of them will continue to improve in the coming years.   Wouldn’t it be great to come back to Tonga one day and see that one of the past participants has done great things?

Meet my Co-Workers

For the past two years, I’ve worked with the same group of people at the Vava’u office of the Tonga Development Bank.  All of them have been great to me and many of them already know about my family and friends, but very few of you know much about them except perhaps for the photo I shared in my last post.  I asked my friend Chad to videotape me so that I could introduce you to the people with whom I have shared an office.  It’s about five minutes long.
 Direct Link to Video

The Week Ahead

My final day at the Vava'u bank is next Thursday.  I fly to the main island of Tongatapu on Friday to say good-bye to the folks at our head office and to do my exit interviews with Peace Corps.
I leave Tonga for good on Monday the 23rd when I’ll fly to New Zealand for about 30 hours before heading to Australia for a couple of weeks.  I’ve got a lot planned for Australia including a five day dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef.  On Thanksgiving Day,I’ve arranged to have a traditional American dinner with Turkey and all the trimmings.   While in Australia I will also be going to a place called Cape Tribulation before wrapping up the trip with five days in Sydney.  It’s my 3rd trip to Australia.  I went to Brisbane in September, 2008 and to Melbourne and Adelaide/Kangaroo Island in September of this year. 
I fly back into West Palm Beach late on December 8th.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

My Friends in Tonga

I believe we are all influenced by the people with whom we associate.  If you hang around negative people, it tends to make you more negative.  If you find yourself around someone who is cynical, eventually, you may start to question everything.

I’m very fortunate that for the past two years I’ve been surrounded by a lot of friendly and positive folks.  And I hope that their influence on me continues long after I leave Tonga.

Just like in the USA, I have several groups of friends here ranging from my work friends to my personal friends to my fellow volunteers.  IMG_2985

These are the folks who I work with at the Tonga Development Bank in Vava’u.  I’ve seen each of these people almost every working day since I moved here.

They are a great group of folks and they love to laugh at me almost as much as I like to laugh with them.  (Okay, sometimes I laugh at them too!)

The man in the middle on the first row is my great friend Fuka, who is the manager of the branch.  He’s been such a great help to me during my service that I can’t imagine being a volunteer in Tonga without him around.  We are the same age, have a lot in common and we shared a memorable fishing trip last year.

My fellow volunteers have also been an important part of my life, especially those who arrived at the same time as I did.  Our training group, Tonga Group 73, initially started with 33 volunteers.  There are now just 18 of us left and next week the remaining group members will start to leave for good.  (November 12th is the first day we are allowed to leave and we have until December 12th to depart unless we request an extension).

However, the volunteers to whom I’ve been the closest are the ones with whom I’ve shared an island. Group 71 and Group 72 were both here in Vava’u when I arrived.PB230030  They are now gone, replaced for the past year by the members of Group 74.

Two weekends ago we had a final camping trip with the the eight Vava’u volunteers  (and some other friends.)

It was a last chance for us to hang out together for an extended period of time.   We spent two nights camping on an uninhabited island. 

 

There were originally eight people from my group in Vava’u.  James, Shannon and I are the only three who remain. (Shannon is in the white top and that’s James in the red shirt.)

The members of Group 75, who are all now in training, will arrive after we have all departed. Six of them have been assigned to Vava’u but none will be replacing James, Shannon or myself.

Some Random Notes

  • I obtained by Advanced Open Water SCUBA certification last week.  This follows my basic Open Water certification in March.  My final dive was a night dive and it is such a difference experience than diving in the day.  We also encountered a three foot shark who seemed a lot less interested in us than we were in him.
  • My last day at work is November 19th.  I fly to the main island on November 20th and then I leave Tonga for good on November 23rd.  I will be traveling to New Zealand and Australia before arriving home to West Palm Beach on December 8th.
  • I’ve been sick for the past six days and have rarely left the house.  It’s frustrating because there are so many things I want to do before I leave Vava’u and losing six days when you only have three weeks left sucks.   However, I’ve been pretty healthy during my service so I guess it was my time.

Good-bye Shannon

I have another video to add to my Peace Corps Tonga videos.   This is a good-bye video I put together for my friend Shannon.  Shannon has lived in the village of Tefisi in Vava’u for the past two years.   I am in this video as is my dog,  Solitia.

I am now working to complete my own video about my service.  I hope I can get it done before I leave Tonga.