Ladies in the education sector, April 2012 (Sue is behind me in blue)
Ladies in the education sector, April 2012 (Sue is behind me in blue)

Introducing: Sue W.
A gifted child, Sue grew up in a community where she and her mother were taught by- and interacted with- a number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. If I remember correctly, she later befriended a Volunteer who, now returned to the States, is her best friend. Sue is a trained Jamaican teacher but she also started working part-time with Peace Corps as a community liaison or a Language & Culture Facilitator when volunteer training groups came to her town. Eventually she was promoted and is now in charge of PCJ’s Education sector, which makes her my supervisor.

Sue’s Story (transcribed from a video)
Where I come from, we’ve always had Peace Corps Volunteers. So, my mother was taught to sew by a volunteer in the 60’s when volunteers were focusing on vocational work. And as a result of that, my mother was able to make uniforms for us to go to school, and she didn’t have to spend the money that she didn’t have on uniforms because she had that skill. And so today, I learned

that from her, and I do my own curtains and everything.

Later, I was very, very shy growing up. … I did not look people in the face when I was talking. There’s a volunteer by the name of Lisa Nickerson, at Pollyground Primary School (I think she works at Habitat for Humanity now- because I facebook her) and Lisa held my chin one day when I was talking to her.

She did this, [*holding neighbor’s chin up*] she said, “Look me in the eyes. I’m no better than you are. Look at me when you speak to me.” I’ll never forget it. I would be looking down when talking to people, because I didn’t have that self-confidence. She said, “Look at me. We’re the same thing.” (She had a dog by the name of Rex. Rex-tafari. I did not like Rex, but I liked Lisa. … Lisa was awesome.)

And I had [another] volunteer in my community by the name of Ruben. And he had a reading class and a science class at the primary school from 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock at nights, and I took that class when I was 13.

And he [Ruben] took me to the secondary school and registered me for what was then the Jamaica Secondary Certificate (or something), and those were pretty much like CXCs [think: AP or IB tests] in those days, you could use them to get into courses and so on. But the people who took them usually took them at like 18, 19, after completing high school. And this volunteer got me registered. I went to the class- I was the only child in the class. They were all like women who wanted to improve on their literature levels.

I’ll never forget, I was so nervous when I took my first exam, I couldn’t spell the world ‘the.’ I couldn’t figure out if it was t-h-e or t-e-h. Oh my god, I was just so nervous. I took the exam, and I passed it.

And you would never believe it. Even though the exam didn’t get me into college or anything- because by the time I finished high school they were no longer accepting JSCs- it really built my confidence. So by the time I got to third form in high school, I had my very first CXC. I was no longer scared of, just, talking. I had so much confidence in myself at age 13 walking around with a JSC, I was like the little bright girl in the community! And he told everyone in the community about my achievements.

I don’t know where he is now. I don’t know if he’s alive, I don’t know where… I never one day went back and thanked him for it, because I didn’t understand what he was doing. And today, at my age- almost going to 100- I still remember him. I have a picture in my mind; I can see his face. I don’t know if I’d be able to make him out now, because you know, people change over the years.

But what he did for me, my parents could not have done for me. My teachers did not do for me.

You never know. I’m sharing this story to tell you that you never know which child- which child in your class, which person in your community- you never know. Chances are great you will leave your community and not know how you have impacted someone’s life.

So when the days get tough, and you feel like you can’t manage anymore, and you don’t want to do it anymore, just think of that. There is going to be a child, maybe more than one in your community, who is going to be thinking of you and what it is you did for them.

You are building confidence in children, especially given the type of child you work with, who people believe are not going to come out to be anything. The families, the parents, the teachers, just write them off. They’re non-achievers, nothing coming out of them. These are the lives that you have in your hands, where you can make a change.

It’s so powerful. What you’re doing, they don’t have enough money in the world to pay you. And you might not have anything to show, like the other volunteers, when you leave. But I’m telling you guys, these children will never forget you.

These volunteers that touched my life… I’m so sorry that I did not take the time to thank them because I did not know better. In my culture, you don’t tell people thanks. Children are not going to thank you. They’re not going to, but they will always remember you. And that’s me, speaking as a child who has been touched, who was touched by a Peace Corps Volunteer. So, guys, just enjoy it. Just do what you can do, from your hearts, and leave it there.