(Editor’s note: Brian Dunn, Rushville Consolidated High School graduate, is serving with the Peace Corps in Uganda in eastern Africa.)
I awake to the sound of a rooster crowing a full 10 minutes before my alarm is set to go off. It always seems to happen that way. I lie in bed for the next few minutes planning out my day, too lazy to arise before the alarm actually goes off. Finally, I slither out from under the sheets to silence the buzzing cell phone alarm, throw on a pair of running shorts and lace up my running shoes for my morning jog. It’s 6:30 and the sun has not yet perched over the mountainous horizon. The air is cool but comfortable in the light morning fog and the run gets my blood flowing and helps me to clear my mind. The day starts out as any day back in Indiana would except that here I run past mud huts, children walking barefoot to school and men pushing bicycles up the hilly roads loaded with large bunches of unripe banana plantain. So begins my day as a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Uganda in eastern Africa.
I had never given any thought to the Peace Corps while growing up. Living in Africa was about the farthest thing from my mind after college. If it hadn’t been for my high school choir teacher Mr. Doyle taking us to Mexico in high school or my friend Roger Williams giving me a nudge towards the Peace Corps after a frustrated discussion about career paths, I never would have. So, after a nine-month application process, quitting my job, selling my house and selling/giving away whatever wouldn’t fit in Dad’s and Mom’s storage shed here I am.
I arrived in Uganda in March 2007 with 36 other future PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) from around the U.S., ages 22 to 63, set to work in the fields of health and education. We all shared a common interest of wanting to help others less fortunate and to see and experience another part of the world in ways that only a PCV can. After a 10-week training period in which we were living with host families and were taught basic phrases in the local language (Uganda has 55 of them), technical training for what we’ll be doing at our site, and lessons in local culture, we packed our belongings and left for our future sites where we would work with a local organization and live for the next two years. Each volunteer is placed with an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) with which to work with and provide direction, supervision and support.
What is it like to be a PCV, you might ask? Life as a PCV varies from country to country as well as from individual to individual within the same country. I live in a concrete “office” building which resembles a college dorm room located next to a Christian minister’s house. I fetch my water from a public tap about 50 meters from my house using large “jerry cans,” I take bucket baths and wash my clothes by hand. (Actually I pay to have the wash done. My wash lady is a mother of one of the Compassion kids and she has been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. I pay her $4 a week to wash clothes and it is her greatest source of income.) I ride my bicycle into the nearest town, one kilometer away, to buy fresh pineapples, goat meat and vegetables, but I also check my e-mail there on my laptop using satellite Internet. I’ve also had the true pleasure of watching Colts playoff games (live at 2 a.m.) on DSTV at a local hotel/restaurant (when the power is on, that is), and I receive weekly calls from my folks on my cell phone. So it’s not exactly what I pictured, that’s for sure.
For the past nine months I’ve been working exclusively with Compassion International, a worldwide children’s aid organization that works primarily in poor countries which provides children with sponsors from the US and around the world. The sponsors pay a small amount each month and that money goes towards mosquito nets, mattresses, school fees, school supplies, school uniforms, health care and in several cases food and shelter. There are nearly 300 OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) that I work with, teaching various health topics such as HIV/AIDS awareness, malaria treatment and prevention and nutrition as well as conducting home visits to check on the living conditions of each child. Of the 300 children here, 90 percent have lost one or both parents, almost exclusively to HIV/AIDS.
The experiences I’ve had here have been amazing and have already taught me a great deal and I’m not even halfway through this adventure. I’ve learned about people and poverty, about myself and my neighbors, about Compassion and compassion and about what life is truly like on the other side of the world. Mostly I’ve learned that a great deal more awareness needs to be raised to end the needless suffering, hunger and poverty that has devastated this beautiful continent and these amazing people for far too many years. And that my being here hasn’t changed the world so much as the world has changed me.
For more information on the Peace Corps, Compassion International or my experiences in Uganda and to see pictures feel free to check out my blog at http://pervispc.blogspot.com or e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org.