Friday, April 22, 2011

Mission Complete

My Peace Corps service closed on April 19, 2011.
I am not sure what to say, these two years have thrown more at me that I could have expected. I've learned more and completed more than I knew I was capable. Going through my photos from my first year of service alone I could see the growth in me. I have eaten things I didn't know were eatable! I was taught new techniques for making food and surviving on an island.

As I return home to family and friends anxiously awaiting my arrival I become full of mixed emotions. Of course I am ecstatic to see everyone and be in a place I know so well again. However, the experienced gained in my service has changed me forever. As a speaker recently stated, those who serve in the Peace corps return home with a "third eye". We have opened our minds and eyes so much that all we knew before we left on our mission has a different feel, a new look. To watch people of a foreign culture talk, dress, act and live differently among you for two years it is suddenly your own "norm". I am in awe some days looking back and realizing what I did; the challenges I worked through, high adventures I participated in and the simplicity of giving up years of my "normal" life to take on this mission.

I am so blessed to have had this opportunity to gain these lessons and life changing events. I will forever be a new and improved Julie thanks to the Peace Corps and the individuals who touched my life while I was abroad. Many thanks (more than words could possibly say) to those back home who supported me through it all and were with me every step of the way!

Mission Complete.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yay for Success!

As mentioned previously that past week was taken up by Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration events. The volunteers of 3 groups on island did a phenomenal job making sure everything ran smoothly. Although we hit our glitches here and there we all stuck together and I am proud to be a part of it.
The luncheon was a beautiful celebration with Peace corps staff, volunteers and island nationals who have supported and been involved with PCVs. Every speech was touching and delivered it in own way broken 1/2 way by a delicious local meal and entertainment from an EC81 volunteer. Key note speaker, grabbed people's attention with his words focusing on his experience as a volunteers in the 70s and all he has learned. I spoke on behalf of PCVs giving many thanks to supporters and my perspective on the last two years. (Speech is below for those who were not present).
The lunch concluded with a "Creole Corps" video showing a day in the life of a PCV represented by 4 individuals all in different stages of their journey. In between scenes clips from all PCVs were submitted to show fun with children and different aspects of village life. Fun was had by all present and it was an amazing way for us in EC79 as a sending off as well as the newly installed group EC83 inspiring them for their upcoming adventure!

Luncheon Speech - Peace Corps Volunteer perspective - Ms. Julie Cieszkowski

I am standing before you today to give a huge thank you to the people that have been involved with and supported the Peace Corps in many ways here in Dominica. First of all, a special thank you to Jungle Bay and owner Mr. Sam Raphael for allowing us to celebrate here on this day. For those of you present, we are honored to have you with us at this great celebration of Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary.

The Peace Corps is a wonderful journey for us volunteers because each day brings a new experience, a window into a different way of life. However, every Volunteer begins their mission with a range of emotions; some show excitement, other nervous and filled with anxiety while a few may experience every emotion possible. Before leaving the U.S. we begin imagining what our village will be like, who we will meet and how our projects will evolve. Our adventure begins as we say goodbye to family and friends and board the plane. Emotions continue to soar as we land in Dominica for the first time, take local bus rides and move into our home stays a greater understanding of Dominica starts to take place. Our new habitat is finally reality. After being bombarded with unfamiliar sights, smells, sounds and surroundings we get the beautiful opportunity to meet people of different cultures, beliefs, backgrounds and ages. This is one of the most profound impacts of our Peace Corps adventure.
Each Volunteer is influenced by friends, coworkers and neighbors we come across. This makes the Peace Corps experience what it is - a unique and life changing event. An exchange of culture is one of the key lessons learned and area for growth among all nations touched.

To say Peace Corps Dominica is a unique experience is an understatement. Village friends happily welcome us into their homes and make us feel one of their own. I have been given incredible opportunities here that I would never be blessed with in my daily life back in the U.S. I have worked with children of all ages sharing ideas and watching them grow and mature in their education and personal lives. As I collaborated with youth I witnessed different perspectives, characters and lifestyles. Along with the benefits I have gained from my work, there have been a number of cultural aspects as well. For example, I was able to experience the entire process of bay leaf production; something I had no previous knowledge on. From breaking bay leaf, carrying it to the factory to witnessing the oil production was only half of my experience. Watching hard working grown men spend days and nights in a hot, smoke filled factory astounded me. Highly exhausted they continued their process by stoking the fire, gauging their oil while loading and unloading parcels of bay leaf through a vigorous procedure. Furthermore I got hands on lessons in cleaning fish, pounding ton ton, and making fresh cocoa, just to mention a few. I have taken part in weddings, graduations, baptisms and other holiday traditions broadening my cultural knowledge to the extreme. I can proudly say Creole sentences and understand some aspects of the Creole language, communicating with others even if on a basic level. How many Americans can say that?!

Being a volunteer here provided me with lessons which will always remain with me. For in the future I know I can problem solve much better, overcome cultural differences in the workplace, and keep an open mind in the face of obstacles. I am confident that I will be able to handle things back home after I “survived” days here without electricity, running water, internet or personal transportation. These so-called necessities are too often taken for granted. A simple lesson I learned here, I now appreciate that when I turn the sink faucet on, water comes out! When I flip a switch the lights turn on! I am now a stronger individual for having such a diverse experience, doing what many Americans never have a chance to do.

Fortunately for the Volunteers here today, we have been blessed by all of you sitting in this room. You are our honored guests who have shown a great deal of respect, appreciation, love, kindness, friendship and much more. Through my two year journey I have been given wonderful counterparts and through that came friendship. If it weren’t for the exceptional individuals that reached out to me I may not be standing before you today; recognizing you all for your kind hearted ways. My counterpart and now a great friend came to me with an open mind to talk and discuss the work I had planned, about my life and where I came from. I recognized this as a wonderful blessing; when another could show a true interest in me was a compliment and filled me with feelings of comfort. From this supportive environment, I was able to fully utilize my skills and foster the positive change I came here to inspire. After months and now two years of working together my colleague and I have blossomed in our projects, talents, and community lives. Our friendship grew and we constantly motivated one another to continue the community and youth development we had already begun to establish.

This shows the power of a one on one connection and the domino effect it creates. For when my counterparts showed interest, acceptance, and appreciation a door was opened for others to enter. When one can express that genuine interest and eventually trust an individual, no matter their history or race, others tend to come around. Everyone here is a part of that effect. For you were considerate enough to open your minds, hearts and lives to us. You gave us your time, attention and a voice and made us a part of something we had hoped to be: the development of this beautiful country. Be proud for you have helped us reach a Peace Corps goal. For we all have contributed to greater world peace, a better understanding of different people and shared ideas which led to development. Once again thank you for all you have done and for helping give Peace Corps Volunteers a lifetime of memories.

Saturday concluded the week with a youth event "Go Green Roseau" which brought youth from all over Dominica together to learn about environmentally clean habits, distribute painted rubbish drums and clean various areas of the capital city.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Peace Corps celebrates 50 years

This year commemorates 50 years of Peace Corps service all over the world. Countries everywhere are celebrating in their own ways. The Eastern Caribbean is unique in that it is made up of islands, therefore each of the 6 islands are also observing this time in a variety of ways. Us Volunteers in Dominica have been working for months planning a week of festivities which begins on April 4th. The 3 groups on island have been working for months to put together events, raising money, getting speakers and reaching out to returned Peace Corps Volunteers back in the USA. The week has an exhibit Mon-Thurs displaying Dominica and each village where our Volunteers live and serve. Peace Corps will be present to talk to visitors throughout the day. Community projects continue throughout the next couple of days. When Thursday hits the Peace corps Trainees will swear in as Volunteers. That ceremony is followed by a "Hello/Goodbye" dinner with all Volunteer groups.
Friday is the big end of the week event in which we are holding a luncheon with special speakers and honored guests from each village. We will hold a ceremony, eat a lunch, show a PCV video and mingle amongst each other.
Lastly Saturday consists of our island wide youth service event. "Go Green" Roseau is an environmental friendly day in which young people will clean different areas followed by an environment speech to end with giveaways.

Phew ... this is just a run down. Should be a good celebration & I am just trying to find time to attend everything ;)
You will see photos and get an update as the week passes.

This is it....

I am officially in my final month of Peace Corps service. I imagined this to be a time of saying goodbyes and slowing down work. The opposite has happened. The school has me busier than ever with events along with my daily duties. Youth events are continuing and I am currently planning for my big final project with them. Along with that working hard to hand of duties to the Youth Nights may continue without my presence. Lastly is the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Peace corps is this year, 2011 so the PCVs are working hard to make it a memorable one.

Many thanks go out to Dewitt Middle School 5th grade class!! They just put on a fantastic performance (from what I heard) at their school; a fundraiser to send books to Dominica. They successfully donated 9 large boxes of books to the primary school I work at. (This is their 2nd shipment during my service). The students witnessed the delivery of them today and were amazed! They then got the opportunity, since we just got our internet, to FINALLY read the American students' blog, talk and thank them! Chatting will continue "across the ocean" among the children!

The Youth group had officially elected their executive board and cleaned out the Kindergarten classroom that was our meeting place; it is now more "hip" and youth oriented. The final project we are planning to do is a beach clean up centered between our three neighboring villages. We will gather as a large group of youth to clear the beach of trash and coconuts, cook some local food over a fire and spend the afternoon playing sports on the basketball court! I am praying that all goes well, we get the funds we need and attendance is high; that we are supported and it can be a great way for my last project and sending off event.

Time is flying, I am excited to get back home to my family and friends, however a bit nervous to leave the life & culture I've adjusted and known for 2 years, as well as the beautiful children and great people I have met. Thanks to the Peace Corps I have had a life changing experience :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Primary School Art Exhibition

"My" Primary school put on its FIRST ANNUAL (!) Art Exhibition. We had an unplanned trial run in late January but many officials were unable to attend. The art teacher and I teach Art and Crafts every Thursday for grades K-6 and last term consisted of nine projects for viewing pleasure.

The first run gave the students and parents an opportunity to walk through and view the students artwork from the first term (Sept-Dec). We rescheduled for a more formal exhibition in early February. Education officers and village representatives were present for a short assembly; prayer, songs, welcome, overview of exhibition, remarks from individuals and prizes for 1st projects. Officials were guided through the art room and surrounding halls followed by parents and students.

It was a beauty to see the turnout and the school getting recognition for using its new art room and teacher to its best abilities. Everyone was excited to see the winners work as well as their children ... which they will further take home.

A special thanks to all of those who made donations to restock our art supplies!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Waitukubuli National Trail!

A couple volunteers and I took a day for hiking during our Christmas/holiday break. The Waitukubuli National Trail project began in February 2008 and consists of 14 sections of trail making its way around the island of Dominica. The three of us completed Section 3 which started in Bellevue and ended in Wotton Waven. We were luckily enough to finish in this village where the hot sulfur springs are! ... we soaked in the "hot tubs" after our 9 mile hike. Ahhhhh....

Waitukubuli Trail Information

Section descriptions

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Returning to Dominica

I had the privilege of visiting home in the states for a few weeks over Thanksgiving. My body was in shock once the cold struck but the beauty of the snow excited me like I'd never seen it before! I was able to meet with the students who are so kindly taking their time and possessions and donating books to the primary school where I work. Thank your for having me and all the wonderful things you are doing!

I returned to Dominica and the weather was warm and the foliage green... as usual. I quickly appreciated that but took me a few days to adjust being away from home again. Now 2 weeks back I am back at work and enjoying the Christmas festivities Dominica has to offer. Although Christmas trees and lights are not as common here when I do see them it gives me a wonderful sense of home. I have a lovely 4 foot tree in my apartment that lights things up nicely, along with a few other decorations. Christmas is definitely different here but I am making the best of it (the neighbors love my Christmas cookies!) and staying busy.

Merry Christmas to all of you!