THE BLOG
10/19/2011 01:28 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2011

An African Co-Worker's Perspective on Peace Corps

Starting a new job includes a whole host of adjustments. The change that can bring the most questions for anyone is meeting co-workers. Who do you like? Who works hard? Who doesn't work at all? Who can you hang out with after work?

These kinds of questions can be enhanced a bit when a person decides to volunteer in the Peace Corps. Each volunteer is placed at a work site that in-country Peace Corps staff feels will be a fit for his or her skills. The organization/school that applied for a volunteer assigns a current employee to be a counterpart. The roles a counterpart can play depend largely on the working relationship that develops or, in some cases, doesn't. Working with someone new can be as cohesive as the Beatles writing songs in the '60s or as dysfunctional as Paddy's Pub on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In a good working environment, the volunteer and counterpart collaborate on all projects. Both people see learning as a two-way street. In a situation that doesn't work with the assigned counterpart, a volunteer can, and often does, find other people to work with. Volunteers have a lot of flexibility on who they can work with at their work sites or in the community. It's not uncommon for someone to find other passionate people at a workplace or in the community.

I thought it would be helpful to hear a perspective on Peace Corps from my counterpart. I work at a large center for people with disabilities in Botswana. My counterpart, Remigio Kadzviti, is the Programs and Training Coordinator. Known for his booming voice, tireless work ethic, proficient grant writing and kind heart, he has been working with people with disabilities since 1997. He has been at the center for five years. His main responsibilities are to oversee a school for kids with disabilities, write large grants and run the programs that develop from those grants.

Did you know about Peace Corps before working with a volunteer?
No. I didn't.

What do you think of Peace Corps now?
I think they are doing a good job. The effect that volunteers have in capacity building is wonderful. It's something I want them to continue. Building capacity for people in the various needs they have is really helpful.

Were there any awkward moments or thoughts when you started working with the volunteer?

There was a volunteer in my office, but I wasn't quite sure of all of the work we would be doing together, so I was a bit confused about how it would happen. I didn't know where to start from and what we would work on. I just needed some answers. Once I got them and we came up with a plan everything has been great.

What are the best parts of working with a Peace Corps volunteer?
The good thing is they really capacity build people. Most of the things I didn't know I have learned through working with a volunteer. They go beyond helping with core business and try to help you learn other things. They are friendly, accommodating and willing to share information that other people may not want to share. For me, as head of training, the volunteer helped create a database to track all clients, made a timetable to plan for the whole year, showed me formats for different tools like certificates, helped build a sports program, etc. The list is endless.

Do you see any differences between Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations?

There's a lot of difference. The biggest difference being that volunteers come and have specific areas to work on and stick to that. Some volunteers I have seen from other organizations don't always do what they report to be doing. Peace Corps has basic training, including language that allows them to communicate with everyone in the community, which is also different.

What role has cultural differences played in working with a volunteer from America?
I have seen that there are major differences when talking about HIV/AIDS. African people can be copycats of western culture and, in a way, for the ones who want to be copycats, they can create conflicts with elders. Younger generations may want to improve their way of living because they see good things, but there can be a clash with older generations when change is involved. I have seen the Peace Corps volunteers meet a community that doesn't want to change and have to work with them to understand differences. There are good things about western culture that can improve ours and working through those issues is important.

Has your opinion of America/Americans changed due to working with Peace Corps?

Very much. If you are told about Americans before you meet and work with them you could have a picture painted that they want to control Africa and Africans, but that's not the case. I have seen that Americans are friendly to work with and when they work they mean business. I don't know what they do behind the scenes, but they work hard. It's something I learned. No wonder why they are from a developed country, they really do their work.

What's the best memory or moment you have working with Peace Corps?
We went to another village to do data analysis on a research project. Peace Corps volunteers assisted me on finishing the report. We spent 6 days together. I learned so much about analytical tools and research. After the report was done they took me to salt pans and I don't know how to express my joy. It was a life-changing moment for me. They showed me how to take pictures that made me look like I was flying or holding a volunteer by the head. My family loves them and I will keep them forever. Outside of work, volunteers taught my wife and I how to make pizza and gave us recipes. I have also received a lot of guidance that I never used before. There are so many things I will remember. I have learned so much about myself. Working with Peace Corps, it's not all about work, it really changes your life.

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