Peace Corps Volunteers know their experiences are life-changing, that they get more from their service than anyone they could ever possibly give back.
The Rwandan president Paul Kagame spelled out what is in store for the new group of Volunteers in his country in the Huffington Post yesterday. I don’t usually like to quote long bits from other blogs, but I can’t bring myself to cut anything out:
Peace Corps volunteers are well educated, optimistic, and keen to assist us as we continue to rebuild, but one must also recognize that we have much to offer them as well.
We will, for instance, show them our system of community justice, called Gacaca, where we integrated our need for nationwide reconciliation with our ancient tradition of clemency, and where violators are allowed to reassume their lives by proclaiming their crimes to their neighbors, and asking for forgiveness. We will present to them Rwanda’s unique form of absolution, where the individuals who once exacted such harm on their neighbors and ran across national borders to hide from justice are being invited back to resume their farms and homes to live peacefully with those same families.
We will show your sons and daughters our civic tradition of Umuganda, where one day a month, citizens, including myself, congregate in the fields to weed, clean our streets, and build homes for the needy.
We will teach your children to prepare and enjoy our foods and speak our language. We will invite them to our weddings and funerals, and out into the communities to observe our traditions. We will teach them that in Africa, family is a broad and all-encompassing concept, and that an entire generation treats the next as its own children.
And we will have discussions in the restaurants, and debates in our staff rooms and classrooms where we will learn from one another: What is the nature of prosperity? Is it subsoil assets, location and sunshine, or is it based on human initiative, the productivity of our firms, the foresight of our entrepreneurs? What is a cohesive society, and how can we strengthen it? How can we improve tolerance and build a common vision between people who perceive differences in one another, increase civic engagement, interpersonal trust, and self-esteem? How does a nation recognize and develop the leaders of future generations? What is the relationship between humans and the earth? And how are we to meet our needs while revering the earth as the womb of humankind? These are the questions of our time. While some consider development mostly in terms of infusion of capital, budgets and head counts, we in Rwanda place equal importance to relationships between peoples who have a passion to learn from one another, preparing the next generation of teachers, administrators and CEOs to see the exchange of values and ideas as the way to build the competencies of our people, and to create a prosperous nation.
Are you a Peace Corps Volunteer or returnee? What has your host country offered you?