Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?

“Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?”

I’ve been replaying this question in my head over and over again since last Saturday. It was a random conversation with a local that happened to speak English. I found the conversation rather enjoyable until he asked me that question. A question that quickened my heartbeat and left my brain scrambling for something to say in my defense. It wasn’t only the question that bothered me. It was the fact that he sat waiting for a real response, wondering if I was so naive, so idealistic to believe that I, little old me, could do something worthwhile in his country.

After a long pause,

Me: Sir, you can’t talk to me like that. I’m giving up two years of my life to be here. I have to believe it means something.

Man now grinning at me: Our problems are too big. Go back to America!

He then spent the remainder of the bus ride telling me about how “big” the problems are in Moldova, and how incapable I am of addressing them.

Man: You told me earlier that you were teaching the kids about goals and aspirations and they found the idea of  goal setting and future planning difficult. It’s not so much that it’s difficult, it’s that there is nothing for them to aspire to. The students finish university and the end up working in construction in Italy or Russia because there are no jobs in Moldova. You tell them to dream, but dream about what? Their only hope is leaving Moldova.

Me: But the world is changing, and when opportunities present themselves my students will be better equipped to seize them than other students.

Man smirking: What you are doing is good. I just don’t think it will change anything.

I’ve dealt with opposition before. I’ve dealt with cynics and nonbelievers in various other situations, and I had no problem moving forward in confidence. The problem with this conversation is that deep down I constantly wonder if there is truth to what he said.

Will I ever make a big enough difference to justify this experience? Am I learning more than I am teaching? Furthermore, am I doing it all in vain?

For example, I had my 8th grade students do a project in place of a formal written test. They were given a week to do a simple project, which came with an example. I even gave them class time to work on it and ask questions. The projects were due today, but only five of 16 students completed the project. Five. I used this a project based evaluation because too many of the students failed the written tests, and I thought it would be better for them to analyze and apply information rather than regurgitate it, but now the outcome is even worse.

My partner suggests that we just don’t give out a grade for this semester, but I asked her… “If we don’t grade them, why are we teaching? They don’t do homework. They don’t do the tests. If we don’t give them a grade the students that DO participate are going to stop. Then all of our work will have been in vain.”

Our work will have been in vain… What are you doing here?…Do you really think you can make a difference?…Go back to America.

Some may wonder why I give these statements so much power. To be honest, I’m not always confident that what I am teaching my students will help improve their future. I’m not sure if by teaching them to set goals, to dream, and to plan is going to aid them or set them up for greater disappointments, when after graduation they are doing manual labor in a foreign land. I speak of opportunities…but what opportunities?

If a man were to start a business in Moldova, and it were to become successful; it is only a matter of time before the government comes and takes it over. Where is the opportunity in building something only to have it snatched away by an inefficient, power hungry government? There isn’t any.

Thus, for the last 4 nights, I have laid awake in an insomniatic like state, trying to conceptualize my service up to this point. I’ve concluded that I’m discontent with this experience thus far. While it is hard to acknowledge,  I stay committed to my service by believing that I am helping in someway.  So when a random stranger tells me my work doesn’t matter, when he discounts the very idea I cling too, well…it makes for sleepless nights wondering if he’s right.

That is all.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?

  1. X. Burt

    Hmm. Interesting. The thing is you are not going to change Moldova life in 2 years. You do have the ability to change 1 students life in 2 years. And if that 1 student can take what he/she has learned and become a success then your work has not been in vain. But I figure the whole point of being there is to maybe make a difference because at the end of the day you really can’t change anything.

  2. A friend

    There are plenty of examples of how a volunteer, in Moldova, has had a positive impact on their community. People achieve what would be considered beyond their reach by the standards of Moldova because they interacted with a volunteer. Just ask Marlene, she has a video of a girl who changed her life because she met a PCV. I’m not saying that everyday is going to change lives, or that everyday will be easy. It sucks, it’s hard, and everyday you will fail at something. It is the sad truth about being a PCV, you will fail at work, at the language, with your host family and everything you try to do. You will never feel like you have done enough. But you have to keep moving forward, keep getting out of bed, keep trying, and most importantly keeping telling kids to dream of a better future. If you don’t who will? And just like in the States not every kid will listen but some will and those that do may exceed your expectations, if you just give them the chance. That man was right in that you cannot fix all the problems here, but why should his opinion matter? You should set your own goals for your service and measure yourself by them not by what others say. Every volunteer has their own criteria for what is a successful service and you should measure yourself by that. Also never forget that PC has 3 goals and even if you can’t achieve the first one to your satisfaction you can still accomplish the other 2.
    People here appreciate you being here, living with them and speaking their language more then they will probably ever express. But I’m sure after 2 years there will be many positive changes to your community because of you. You are a wonderful volunteer and it all does mean something . Just keep hanging in there! Love you!

    • Thank you for the perspective and support. The funny thing is…I keep thinking about the other two goals and I’m not so sure I’m successful at them either. I’m beginning to wonder if my being accepted in the Peace Corps was some kind of accident. :/

  3. Callie

    Did I actually read that YOU, Ms. Laquia Nicole Burt, think that being accepted as a PCV was a … MISTAKE? From the beginning of June until the end of August, the Peace Corps was all I heard about. It was more than something you wanted Ms. Burt, it was something you actively hoped for. It was something you actively dreamed about, pursued and believed in. Your desire to do something bigger than yourself, in the most grandiose of ways, depended on your acceptance into the Peace Corps.

    Whenever we had conversations about the future, there was this impenetrable shield that slowly lowered itself down over your eyes. That shield changed your voice, your tone, your stance, your mood. It softened your pitbull persona, if only a little. That shield gleaned with perseverance and strength and determination. And my GOD that shield was intimidating!

    Do not give that away. Do not let another person have power over those unique and beautiful qualities that encouraged you to take the challenge when you first applied and breathed life into them when you were later accepted.

    You were chosen for a reason. You are there for a REASON. The Peace Corps chose you because they saw something in you that they didn’t see in anyone else. They chose you because they believed in you too. Find comfort in that.

    I teach five days a week at two inner-city St Paul Public Schools. Impossible circumstances, heartbreaking situations and unfathomable realities. These high school kids deal with more in a week than I have in 22 years. House fires, rape, incest, homelessness, deadbeat parents, jail time, children of their own, deportation, abuse both physically and emotionally. I know what it’s like to leave my kids and feel uplifted and enlightened, like I could change the whole world in my 6 inch- heels. I also know what it’s like to leave my kids with a body dragging, feeling exhausted, fearful, distressed and just PISSED! As though, yes my efforts are all in vain. What a frightening and lonely feeling it is to sit in a car-less parking lot with your doors locked screaming until your nose runs and tears race and snot slides. What an even more frightening and lonely feeling to look over and see your 5th hour teacher staring at you in disbelief, half smirking.

    And how frightening and lonely to realize that he’s walking over. And on that day, with his big smirk and disbelief, he told me something that I will now repeat to you…

    “You don’t change everything in one day, one month or one year (in your case… two). But everyday that you show up, you teach them about dependency. You show them about what it means to know someone responsible that they can actually rely on. Everyday that you smile at them when you really just want to rip the teeth out of their head, you show them that the choosing of attitudes is the most important characteristic they could ever cultivate. They know they are pissing you off. It’s a trap, it’s a test, it’s disrespect. Everyday that you smile you show them that they can trust you, that you deserve respect, that you won’t hurt them. They have fragile egos, yet they bully to see how far they can push you. Push them back in academics. Be there for them as a person. Don’t stand at the bottom of the river and continually swaddle the babies; go upstream and find out why they keep coming down the river. Be their friend because at the end of the day that means so much more than anything you could teach them anyways. ”

    Ultimately, you being there is doing more benefit than you NOT being there. You show up, you give your all, and in small ways that maybe neither of you can process just yet, you change things. You better things. No, you cannot guaruntee them a future that looks like yours, but you can promise them knowledge. You can promise them a tool set with transferrable skills that will be available for future use. Lower that shield of yours, Laquia. Keep it up and push on when confronted. Lift that shield of yours up, Laquia, with your kids. Show them that you love them, let them love you back. Trust, change, education and empowerment. It’s all getting better because of you. Just because one man gave up hope a long time ago, doesn’t mean he should discourage a girl who floats on that very same hope.

    • Laquia

      Callie…Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for the words of encouragement that I read three times (no exaggeration). Thank you for being the kind of person that reminds me of what I am about, because sometimes I do forget. Most importantly, thank you for being the kind of person that I learn from, that inspires me, and that I will align myself with when it comes time for us to take over the world.

      Thank you so much! ❤

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