Kelly McCormack's Inspirational Example

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At a time when we're being bombarded with media coverage of the noxious political atmosphere (see White House vs. Fox News), health care reform (see Obamacare vs. the insurance industry), rampant corporate greed (see AIG, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs etc.), the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (see Rahm Emanuel vs. Dick Cheney), and assorted odious celebrities (see Polanski, Lindsay Lohan, Jon & Kate, Rihanna, Letterman etc.), the example of Kelly McCormack is as refreshing as a summer breeze.

McCormack, a 26-year-old former reporter for the Hill, is completing a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. She's been keeping me and other former colleagues, family and friends informed about her experience through periodic reports since she arrived in the town of Todos Santos, located an 8,000-foot mountainous region of western Guatemala, in November, 2007.

McCormack, a graduate of James Madison University with a double major in political science and Spanish, was one of more than 80 young reporters at the Hill in the past 15 years who have gone on to greater things in journalism and other fields. As one of 197 Peace Corps volunteers in the Central American country of two million people, she is part of a group of 7,691 volunteers now serving in 74 countries, 60 percent of whom are women.

She sent a final report last week before returning to her home in Washington's Virginia suburbs that summed up what she calls "a life-changing experience that I wish all Americans could have." As one of nearly 200,000 Americans who have served in the Peace Corps since it was created in 1961 -- including a half-dozen present members of Congress -- she exemplifies the highest standards of American citizenship and public service.

I asked her if I could share her report with Huffington Post readers and she said I could. It's lengthy, about 1,500 words, but well worth the time to read it all. I guarantee you'll find it uplifting and enlightening, and will make you feel good about America. Welcome home, Kelly.

Hello everyone!

Time has really flown by and I find myself with only two more weeks in Guatemala (I arrived on Nov. 4!). If you had asked me 27 months ago [when she began training] if I would have made it here in Todos Santos for two years, I would have laughed in your face. But, look at me now, devastated to be leaving such a beautiful country, wonderful friends, and two years worth of memories that will last a lifetime.

These two years as a Peace Corps volunteer have been unforgettable. Some days were incredibly difficult, others very rewarding, some boring, but overall, this has been a life-changing experience that I wish all Americans could have. I've become fluent in Spanish, learned some of the Mayan dialect - Mam -in my tiny mountain village, have seen how people really live, have an immense appreciation for the comforts of home and have learned to see the beauty and happiness in a simple life like most Guatemalans, even in the worst situations.

I recently said goodbye to one of my women's groups (I taught them how to sign their names, and gave them talks about self esteem, women's rights, hygiene, health and many other topics). I spent a lot of time with this group of women... we planned to make a community greenhouse to grow flowers as a productive project to augment their household incomes.

They decided after almost eight months of planning that they didn't want to walk up the mountain where the greenhouse would be located. After planning for that long, I was so angry when they decided that walking up the mountain would be too hard. I soon got over it when I remembered that these women never went to school, are completely reliant on their husbands for food and shelter, and are not used to making decisions about their own futures. (We later we completed a family garden project.)

Anyway, we said goodbye, everyone cried (there are 100 women in the group). They gave me a little purse for their appreciation and the women's group leader, Rosa, told me that her husband has been drinking every day. She said she has no hope, five children and would like to be a little bird so she could fly away with me to the States. It was heartbreaking. I've found myself wanting to bring so many women and children back to the states with me, to give them the opportunities that they deserve...

It's been really difficult saying goodbye to people in my town. Especially the older people because they always say that they'll be dead when I come back to visit. They get so sad. I never really thought people cared about me or about what I did until I started saying goodbye...I guess you never know your true impact as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Well, I just finished hand washing my clothes, went for a long run on the country road below the mountains and am now sitting here on my porch drinking tea and watching the clouds pour over the pine-covered mountains (a huge firework that sounded like a bomb just went off and someone turned on Shaggy's 'Angel', so much for the tranquility). I'm off to say more goodbyes. I'm really going to miss this place...

Abrazos,

Kelly

P.S. Some random thoughts ...

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:
· How to be happy living on my own
· The importance of a strong education system - it might be the only way to develop the world
· Spanish
· A huge appreciation for:
* water that always comes out of the tap clean and hot if you want it to, 24 hours a day;
* electricity that works all the time;
* a toilet that flushes normally and disposes of waste in a sewage treatment plant, instead of onto the street outside your house;
* central heating and air conditioning; a washer and dryer;
* dishwashers;
* grocery stores with everything you could ever want and need;
* fast Internet;
* and last, but certainly not least, a car!
· How most people in the world live...what it's like to be poor
· To love Banda music (the Mexican music with at least 20 guys in each band)
· How lucky I am, especially as a woman, to be born in the U.S. These women have it so hard...

WHAT I'VE DONE:
· Finished a county-wide survey/diagnostic of all the women and their needs in Todos Santos Cuchumatan
· A large-scale trash campaign to clean up the town. We formed a commission, held monthly talks, did a public service campaign on the local radio station and recorded a message to be played on all the public buses in town.
· Talks and workshops for women's groups, covering self esteem, leadership, women's rights, the Guatemalan laws, citizen participation, how to sign your name, nutrition, hygiene, health, environmental awareness and family planning.
· Worked with Vets without Borders - Canada to try to quell the number of stray dogs in Todos Santos.
· Started a youth commission and to teach them about citizen participation and get them a seat on the village council.
· Helped to start the Municipality's website (still in the process of getting it filled and functioning!)
· Started a website for a women's coop in town to sell the beautiful things they make (still not published yet, but will be in a few weeks or months hopefully at www.wovents.com).

(Funny story: On a different note, I was sitting in my little house the other day and there was a HUGE boom on the tin roof. I run outside and my landlord has cut down a tree, which has fallen smack on the roof. He offers a huge smile, showing all of his fake teeth with gold stars etched into them, and asks me what's wrong. It seemed that I was the only one worried about whether the roof broke when the tree fell on it. He just laughed when I told him it scared the crap out of me! Can you imagine someone in the States cutting down his tree, letting it fall on the house, and not worrying at all about what happened to his house? Guatemalans are so funny! There was no damage to the house...maybe we should all have tin roofs in America....)

WHAT I'M NOT GOING TO MISS:
· Machismo
· Evangelical music over the megaphones at all hours of the night
· Being told that my face is red...yes, I'm Irish.
· Coffee with my sugar
· Carrying my five gallon water cooler up the hill to my house
· Zero exhaust regulations
· Having one electrical outlet on the other side of the room
· Washing my clothes and dishes by hand
· Bug bites
· Parasites

WHAT I'M GOING TO MISS:
· My boyfriend, Elias, and my friends in Todos Santos and Peace Corps Guatemala.
· Everyone saying, 'Buenos Dias, Buenas Tardes or Buenas noches' when you pass each other on the streets.
· Everyone wanting to know what I'm doing and really worrying that I'm leaving to go back to the states without saying goodbye.
· Tortillas and beans
· Avocados for 25 cents each
· Fresh, mountain air
· The Todos Santos uniform: Red pants, white shirt for men. Blue skirt and woven top for women.
· Three hour lunch breaks (when necessary)
· Haggling for prices
· The Mayan sauna in my front yard...
· Guatemalan sense of humor. Even when things are really bad, they can still enjoy a good joke.
· More than 9 hours of sleep at night!
· Time for reading
· How people say "Cuuuuuuuuuu" to say goodbye (it's Mam for 'Bueno' and sounds like a bunch of birds Cu-ing at each other)
· The excitement of getting fast food (people here save up to eat McDonalds or Pollo Campero)
· People looking at me like I'm crazy when I go running (and making a hand gesture that means... 'girl, why are you working so hard?')
· Walking ridiculously slow, everywhere
· Not being judged for wearing the same clothes for two days in a row
· Zero volume control (when the music is good)
· Speaking Spanish
· Beautiful little Indian ladies and their adorable children
· Being asked where I'm from in the states, then told every state that they have visited or worked in while they were in the US (most of the time they have been to more states than me, and have usually gone illegally)
· The awkwardness of not knowing whether to shake someone's hand, hug them, give them a kiss on the cheek or, in the Guatemalan tradition, hold elbows...