How do you measure success?

Since I’ve been out of Africa for a few days, a lot of people have asked me how I feel about my Peace Corps service so far. Honestly, for the most part I have truly enjoyed my service. Yes, there have been some days when I wanted to ET (early terminate) but my good days have far outweighed my bad days.

Before I left for France, I had a really interesting conversation with two volunteers about to COS. They were asking me about whether I thought my service was successful. I said that it was relatively successful.

Being a first year volunteer at a new site is hard. No seriously…it’s really tough. Even though I’ve spent over a year in Burkina, I’ve only been at my site since the end of September. My site has never had a PCV and they weren’t sure what to expect. It’s really hard to get projects off the ground sometimes and success as a PCV is not linear.

BF’s seasonal calendar makes is very difficult to complete and implement successful projects all year round from a logistical standpoint..

  • June-September is rainy season when the villagers are cultivating
  • October – When the harvest starts and also the beginning of the school year
  • Late February – May – Hot Season – no one including the PCV really wants to do anything because it’s too darn hot.

Realistically speaking the best time to do projects is from October to March. Villagers cultivate to live and rainy season is a very important time.

Most of my life I could measure success linearly. I put effort in generally with positive results.

For example, I used to be on swim team. I was probably the slowest swimmer on the squad. I did the drills and the laps at practice, and every meet my time consistently dropped. Or, if I worked really hard in school I tended to get good grades.

However, my experience with auditions was certainly not a linear experience. There were so many times that I put in (what I thought was an enormous effort) and there were so many instances where I did not get the desired result. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t.

So, how do you measure success? I look at it this way. Would my village have been exposed to experience x,y,z if there was not a volunteer present?

People now know how to make neem cream

People now know how to make liquid soap

People have met an American who can speak French and a little Moore

People have been exposed to a different culture and different set of ideas

I don’t always have successful projects every month but I keep telling myself that every day I get out of my house and speak to someone in Moore is a good day. Just because I put a lot of work into a project does not mean that it ends up being completely successful.

As explained in previous posts, my village has also suffered from a lot of NGO neglect. For example, a prominent NGO did a Hearth Model training (a nutrition program over 12 days that teaches village women how to prepare nutritious meals for their babies to help them gain weight). I help out with baby weighings and write their results in their health books. The last time I helped out a few weeks ago, I saw so many underweight children. When I asked the Major (head of the clinic) if a Hearth model would work here, he said that an NGO already tried and the women were no longer interested. They received a very thorough training but because there was no monitoring or evaluation, the desired behavior change did not happen. Even after this training their babies were still considered underweight. They did not adopt the healthy habits in which they were trained.

Success out en brousse is not the same as working at a9 to 5job. You are on the clock all day, every day. Perhaps you are not sitting at a desk “working” 24/7, but I keep telling myself that every time I work on building relationships means that a project can be that much more successful.

There is no such thing as a perfect volunteer. The locus of control is too small to permit that. I just go out and do my best. Looking back on past reporting forms, I have done a lot, and I have to constantly remind myself to stop being so hard on myself, and to stop comparing myself to other volunteers. Every site is different, and that’s what makes this experience so special.


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