* Peace Corps

You May Never Know: Touching Lives in Unexpected Ways

The following story/letter originally appeared on the blog From Africa to the Caribbean. It was written by Kate W, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica who worked in the schools, like me. It is such a touching example of the unexpected impact a PCV has, so I had to share!

You May Never Know

Sweet Rianna,

       Your quiet disposition, small frame, and hugely curious eyes caught my attention first. You would walk timidly through the door into my corner of a classroom, almost holding your finger to your lips as if whispering sshhhhhh while your brown eyes searched for unspoken permission to enter. You came with the curious masses in the beginning, stepping aside as the bigger, more outgoing students won the prize of participating in Miss Wright’s puzzles, books, coloring, or games. When another student came in, you scooted over on your already small chair, making room for another person to sit and participate in whatever was going on at the small table for that moment.

       Then my novelty wore off. The masses stopped coming, learning quickly that I am a firm and strict (albeit equally kind and silly) teacher. Some were offended that I would not grant them permission for certain activities on certain days. Others bored easily of the same books over and over or lost interest when the bracelet thread ran out. But you stayed. You continued to walk quietly and respectfully into that corner, touching things gently and practically whispering permission, taking care of and respecting that which was not yours. Your toma, Rhianna McCarty, and you enjoyed solving the cardboard puzzles together, personalities begging for praise at a collaborative job well done. Your tiny hands eagerly reached for the fallen Uno or Old Maid card without hesitation, even if you were not the culprit who dropped it. You never left my sacredly organized space without making sure things were back in order and put neatly away. The way you treated your friends, peers, and surroundings caught my attention next, proving the age-old mantra that actions speak louder than words.  

       I did not work directly with you, pulling you out of class to improve your reading skills or because your teacher simply needed a break from behavior. You are a smart girl, as the Jamaicans say. You came to me on your own merit and on your own time, leaving play time outside to the birds. I cannot recall a single time that you complained or shrugged your shoulders when I said no to a certain activity, unlike many other students, perfectly content to simply be and enjoy. Your naturally agreeable, trusting nature had a calming effect in the midst of an unpredictably noisy and chaotic environment. 

       And then you stole my heart. You, Miss Rianna, made every suffering through Jamaica and Peace Corps worth enduring through. You may never know, but you certainly let me know. Tears brim my eyes as I write and remember this, a story that I shared with one or two Jamaicans while still on island, and a story that has become the answer to What was Peace Corps/Jamaica like?.

       I was weeks away from departing Jamaica as the local Peace Corps Volunteer. Apathy had set in as I worked to complete paperwork, wrap up projects, and prepare my house and classroom for the volunteer following me. My head was full of and focused on the boy and potential relationship I had recently started investing in. A teacher’s yelling broke me out of a said trance one morning before school started, and I eventually rose from my table to see what the commotion was about. There you stood, quiet and wide-eyed as the teacher scolded and kissed her teeth at the boy who tore your uniform clear across the back. Having taken on more than my assigned role of Literacy Intervention Specialist (what PCV ever doesn’t?), I offered to sew your uniform back together.

      I placed my tin of sprinkle (sparkle) crayons and haphazardly torn pieces of scrap paper on the table in front of you as you sat in your blouse and shorts. After a few quiet moments I looked across the table at you, creatively coloring away.

“You know you’re a pretty girl, Rianna?” I inquired, attempting to redeem the moment for what I grew to care about most in the students’ lives: character.


you replied, barely glancing up from your paper that now contained 2nd-grade sketches of two girls and the words I love you on it.

After another set of quiet moments  I asked, 

“What makes a girl pretty, Rianna?”

And without a second of hesitation, you replied,

her soul.”

I was speechless. Thoughts ran through my head faster than I could process them to exit my mouth. 

She is thinking critically! 
Who are her parents? 
I want to go meet them and praise them and learn what they are doing differently and right. 
What a wise, wise girl at such a young age. 
She is more beautiful than I ever imagined.

Eventually, I managed to mutter out,

“That’s exactly right! Who taught you that, Rianna?”

And, again, without skipping a beat, you looked up through your long lashes and said with the most confidence I ever witnessed in your being:

You did.
* Peace Corps

Jamaican Culture: Top Posts

Some grateful senior citizens recently gave Jedd the book Jamaica Fi Real!: Beauty, Vibes and Culture as a thank you for teaching them how to use computers. And it’s a keeper. The images are great; the content is relevant; the commentary is on point.Jamaica-Fi-Real-CoverThe books is fantastic and its words resonated with our experiences of this country. For example:

It’s possibly the most contradictory country on the planet. Jamaica combines a Third World standard of living with an almost First World life expectancy. It is one of earth’s most stable democracies, yet has one of its higher homicide rates. It is reputed to have both more churches per square mile, and a higher out-of-wedlock birth rate, than any other place on the globe… (pg. XVII)

Are Jamaicans happy people? Well it’s hard to say; while few people go hungry, there are pockets of real poverty, and a fair amount of physical discomfort. Polls say about half of Jamaicans would emigrate to the US if they could, and a high crime rate is not usually the sign of a contented populace. Then there is the constant complaining, for people here are world-class grumblers. Yet Jamaicans interact with such vitality and humour, that it’s hard to conceive of them as being fundamentally miserable and disgruntled. There can’t be many places where people laugh as easily or as often, and no matter how bad things get, folks here always find reasons for outbursts of merriment. (pg. 11)

Throughout our Peace Corps service, we’ve tried our best to Continue reading “Jamaican Culture: Top Posts”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps, Videos

“These children will never forget you.”

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

Continue reading ““These children will never forget you.””

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Topics in PCJ #1: Attrition

In Jamaica, Peace Corps volunteers live relatively close to each other, which means we are able to visit anyone within a day’s worth of travel. It seems that whenever we PCVs do get together, we can’t help but to try to process our common experiences in this country. Oftentimes the conversation is a means of venting because it’s a rare opportunity to be in the presence of other Americans who know first hand all the crazy things we go through. Through these discussions, there are a number of common reflections that have become apparent. In my next few posts, I’d like to share some of the topics we’ve discussed and some of the lessons we’ve learned collectively.

PCJ Group 83 swearing in with the U.S. Ambassador and Jamaica's Governor General
PCJ Group 83 swearing in with the U.S. Ambassador and Jamaica’s Governor General

There are many and varied reasons why volunteers leave their service early. Sometimes the volunteer’s family or life circumstances require them to return home, some people find they don’t gel with Peace Corps’ policies or approach, others leave for health reasons, and a few have issues with their site. In our original group of thirty-six who arrived on island back in March 2012, twenty-nine remain. I found this chart from a former volunteer’s blog, which shows the average number of volunteers who go through each step of the application and service. Continue reading “Topics in PCJ #1: Attrition”

* Jedd Thoughts, * Peace Corps

People, Pi, and Cake: A Year in Jamaica

Cake on Pi Day: “Happy 1st Year in JA”

Disclaimer: This post was meant to go live on 03/14 (pi day) but do to unforseen but predictable life here (meaning busyness and random power outages) we are posting this today.Like most things in life here, things happen, when they happen.

It’s Pi day: 3.14. For the most part, it was a pretty typical day: we woke up, worked out, had breakfast, and headed to our worksites. Today marked one year since we landed in Jamaica to start our 2 year (+3month) Peace Corps commitment – so as typical and ordinary, it is Continue reading “People, Pi, and Cake: A Year in Jamaica”

* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Jamaica: Second Hand (Part Two)

A journal collage from Peace Corps materials by Michelle

Here we are with less than a month left to before departure! This past week we have been happily inundated with Peace Corps e-mails about our flights, staging in Atlanta, initial safety training, pre-service training schedule, and phone meetings with our program officers. We will officially be flying to staging on March 12 then heading to Jamaica early March 14. As many of you know, our journey toward this upcoming departure to Jamaica in March has been a long one and since I (Michelle) have not had “official employment” for several months, I’ve had lots of time to browse current PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) blogs. I thought I would take this space to share some of my favorites for those of you interested in what our lives might look like these next couple years. Keep in mind that the one piece of advice we’ve heard more than anything is that each volunteer’s community, project, and experience is completely unique:

PC Volunteers ’06/’07

Tight pants– Curious what we’re supposed to bring to Jamaica? Advice from former volunteers about packing.

Continue reading “Jamaica: Second Hand (Part Two)”

* Life Updates, * Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps, Videos

Peace Corps Invite!!!!!!!!!

This is what WE (and many of YOU) have all been waiting for! 13 months after applying and even a few weeks after we were originally supposed to depart, we received our Peace Corps invitation. Even though we’ve known it was coming for the past week, it arrived at the door- not the mailbox- so it was definitely a suprise. We had also been clued in to the general region where we’d likely be placed (although we were warned that the program had not made it through final approval yet- and with all the budget cuts going on, we tried not to get our hopes up), but the country we’re assigned was also surprising! Since we’ve been doing a lot of house-sitting lately, the invite came to my (Michelle’s) parents’ house while Jedd was still in Portland for work so that’s why you’ll see Jedd on Skype in the video.  You’ll just have to watch it to see where we’re going to end up…

For more key points along our Peace Corps journey, from application stages to moving in to our Jamaican home (including more videos), see: Our Peace Corps Process.