Friday, August 01, 2008
(Canaries Village directly behind me)
First, I must admit that when I look back at my blog it makes the "Peace Corps experience" seem like a bed of roses. Yes, it is an accurate representation of the work and experience of being a Peace Corps volunteer in Saint Lucia but with this blog being available to the public I have to be careful what I say.
Sadly this leaves out the crazy stories of that have happened during this whole incredible experience. The cultural differences alone that have led to misunderstanding could be story. The different pace of accomplishing tasks and projects in Saint Lucia vs the more aggressive American timetable is another adjustment.
Leaving out the incredibly painful, boring and tedious meetings that go on for 2-3-4 hours can be misleading. Meetings where the same issues are discussed again and again seemingly without resolution. Meetings where you often ask yourself, "What did we accomplish", remember folks I am in one of the more dynamic forward moving villages. Even more interesting is how you can be two hours into a meeting and have someone shows up and you have to recap the entire meeting debating and re-making all the decisions again. Lastly, in regards to community development meetings. It is a Caribbean fact that if a meeting is set for 7:00pm you do not want to waste your precious time by arriving early or on time. The meeting will start 10 minutes late at the minimum, 20 min most likely.
A funny cultural difference that took me a while to figure out; knowing when someones is agreeing to something because they do not want to embarrass themselves or lose face. The person in fact: has no intention of doing what you have asked and they will avoid you, putting you off afterward so they do not have to do it.
Another struggle is understanding the mentality of quite a few development groups across the island; in helping themselves to some of the monies as I have been told by a few volunteers. An attitude that would never be tolerated in the US but in the EC people look the other way and ignore it. How is that possible you ask? It goes back to the years of development money being brought in without proper accountability-this has created this climate of acceptable corruption. The other part of it, and this is difficult to really appreciate. Everyone is related to each other, if you accuse one person of corruption you are attacking the entire clan. Being in small village you will run into the family members every day where that bitterness can grow and cause serious conflict. When you look at it from their point of view you can see why a villager would let that slide by instead.
Some of this is traced to a lack of transparency in financing. My only recommendation is that you must have an outside accountant who does not live in the village that services are being rendered for reasons mentioned above. In addition, the group must have 3 signature minimum for all withdrawals.
I have gained an incredible amount of experience seeing these barriers to sustainable development played-out on the ground level stopping infrastructure and capacity development. But I also know that they can be worked through with patience... make that extreme patience:)
I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be in some of the developing nations in Africa where resources are extremely scare and the consequences of not having them sometimes means the difference between life and death. The fact that we even have access to banking institutions that are less then 20 minutes away puts development work in Saint Lucia in a whole new playing field.
I am thankful for the genuine appreciation that the people of Canaries have expressed to me for the work I have done. For the giving nature of many of the community leaders who would never say, "No!/Awa!" to giving 50-100EC to a small project I am working on. To the genuine helpfulness and friendliness of Saint Lucian's which is extraordinary compared to the other islands.
Every Peace Corps volunteers experience is unique and challenging, I feel that I need to talk about the some of the low points that happen in this daily community work so that anyone considering becoming a volunteer will have more realistic expectations.
That has been the entire goal of my blog, to give a chronology of 24 months of work and life in Saint Lucia for future volunteers. It has been amazing experience and again, I feel blessed and thankful to the US, to JFK, to the US tax payer and the Government of Saint Lucia for allowing me this opportunity to serve.