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Amhara Camp GROW

Amhara Camp GROW

Last summer, I talked a bit about doing Gondar Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). I served at the Camp Director of the fourth iteration of Gondar GLOW and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my service. Meanwhile in Tigray, a group of PCVs was hosting the second Camp GROW (Growing and Renewing Our World) to take place in Ethiopia that focuses more on caring for and appreciating the world. It’s the only one we’ve got so we might as well love it!

Myself and a couple other volunteers thought it was a brilliant idea and decided to bring Camp GROW to the Amhara region. For the past year, we have been creating an entirely new camp model. Instead of being based on a university campus–usually outside of town and quite isolated–we thought it would be lovely to hold camp in the center of a small town. We chose Addis Kidam, the site of my friend and fellow G8er Amanda. There is a local NGO in her town started by Dr. Tilahun Zeweldu called Northwest Investments (NWI) that has a strong dedication to improving the lives of the community in a sustainable way.

I’m proud to say little over a month ago, 51 students from all over Amhara gathered for the first Amhara Camp GROW!

It was a massive undertaking as we had almost 80 people there at one point (including guests and guest speakers). Dr. Tilahun donated his community center in the heart of town for the 8 days of camp and we turned the six classroom, one meeting hall into a place of learning and fun for the week. The classrooms downstairs were turned into dormitories for the students and counselors while all the programming took place either upstairs in the meeting hall or outside.

At first the kids complained about the rough conditions, lack of electricity, rainy season weather and the fact that they were having the do real work outside (digging, planting, collecting trash, etc) but by the end of the week they were proudly showing off what they’d learned to about 200 members of the Addis Kidam community! These teenagers were telling older, well respected members of the community what a composting toilet or double-digging is! Amanda has a beautiful write up of the community fair here.

Not only did we want the camp to be sustainable through community involvement and a strong partner in NWI, but we wanted it to be healthy for the students and end up with little to no waste. First of all, Amanda’s G10 sitemate Ellery did ALL the cooking (read about her perspective here) and provided a variety of healthy, nutritious meals for the students. Cooking for 80 hungry people every day is no easy feat, yet Ellery managed to do it three meals a day for the eight days. We also collected the students leftover food after each meal and at the end of camp we had less than an injera platter of wasted food! Compared to camps past this was an incredible feat.

Here is a not so tiny list of what we accomplished during the week:

  • Creating a small tree nursey
  • Learning about and creating a permagarden
  • Using tippy-taps to conserve water during handwashing
  • No water bottle waste! The students refilled their water bottles with filtered water and then built a bottle brick bench with the bottles
  • A nature walk at Lake Zengena crater lake
  • Building a composting toilet (or three)
  • Learning about the science of soils
  • Cooking more nutritious dishes
  • Creating their own herbal salves
  • Designing an urban/container garden using waste materials
  • Learning what leadership means and how the students can be leaders
  • A community trash clean up
  • Creating art from trash
  • Having constructive free time where the students learned about environmental jenga, science experiments, music, the family planning game and coloring their own versions of The Giving Tree and other books
  • Designing a “Bring It Home” activity in conjunction with the counselors from their town
  • The first-of-its-kind community fair!

We could not have done this camp without a small grant from USAID’s Feed the Future initiative to help us purchase supplies and hold the planning/post-camp monitoring and evaluation meeting, but it truly was a combined effort from the community, our partner Northwest Investments and Dr. Tilahun, our counselors (both Peace Corps Volunteer and Ethiopian counterparts) and the students. The first Amhara Camp GROW was a huge success and I know that I hope to see it for many years to come.

Twenty-Two/Twenty-Four

The days are swiftly counting down. I spent the last week in Addis at a Cross Culture Committee meeting and doing my COS medical. The next time I will be in Addis, I’ll be leaving Ethiopia for good. Every time a doctor or other PCV would ask me, “When do you go home?” and I’d respond casually, “Friday night.” They’d stare at me in shock and say, “You’re going back to America on FRIDAY?” Oh, you meant that home.

It’s hard. As excited as I am for the next phase of my life, Ethiopia HAS been my home for the past two years. As much as I struggle at times with how to talk positively about my service and my experience here, it has been my life. It’s hard to process what exactly leaving means. I’m paralyzed by my inability to describe my end of service and I feel that has been reflected in my lack of posting lately. I have SO many things to talk about, like Camp GROW and Morocco, but I just feel frozen. Maybe they won’t be my best work, but I’ll try to get at some some words out.

COS Trip

This past month, this got very real. We bought plane tickets out of Ethiopia. We booked hotels in India. We got Indian visas. This big trip is so close.

We arrive in India before dawn on Christmas Eve and, if all goes according to plan, will arrive in the beautiful south Indian state of Kerala on Christmas morning. It will be my third Christmas away, but my first with my fiance! Then after five weeks in India, we’ll continue our travels according to the plan we decided on months ago. I’ll be landing in my hometown in less than 6 months, 30 months after leaving in September 2012. Crazy.

Miscellaneous

I mentioned above I’m having a hard time talking about my service lately. Stay tuned for updates on Camp GROW, Morocco and maybe even COS Conference in the coming weeks!

Twenty-One/Twenty-Four

I’m officially in the home stretch. Only three months left! I have 99 days until I leave Ethiopia for good. Yay! This month’s update is a little light, mostly due to the hectic nature of my schedule these days.

COS Conference!

COS (Close of Service) Conference is happening next week. It seems surreal that it’s the last time G8 will be all in one place… now it’s off to the future. Some of my group are staying for another year, some are leaving immediately following the conference and the rest are leaving in about 3 months… give or take.

Travels: Morocco Edition

Morocco was an amazing and much needed vacation. We had an action packed few weeks and had many adventures, including learning to cook tanjine, eating tanjia and other street food in the Jemaa al Fna, getting henna’d, going to a public hamam (Roman style instead of Turkish) and eating some of the best food I’ve had in the past two years.

I loved Morocco and hope to find time to go back someday!

Camp GROW

I’m currently in the midst of the first Amhara Camp GROW so won’t have any updates for you all for another few weeks since after GROW, I’ll turn around and head straight to Addis for COS Conference. Busy, busy!

Pocket Full of Coins

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Found six different currencies in my pocket this morning!

Ways a Peace Corps Service Ends

Once sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer, there are only two different ways that one’s service can end. I’m often asked if it’s similar to the military and if we can even leave at all, what happens if you get really sick or civil war breaks out? Now you know.

Completion of Service (COS)

This is the big one and the most common. When a PCV serves his or her assigned number of months (typically 27 but minimum of 23), he or she is consider to have completed his or her service. Yay! This is what gives an RPCV the R. RPCV stands for Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and only a person with COS status can called themselves a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

It sounds simple but there are a host of things that can come up during a service (see list below) that would end your service early and keep you from getting labeled with a COS status. There are three exceptions below that are tecnically Early Terminations of Service but can still qualify for COS (and that coveted “R”) status.

Early Termination of Service

This includes everything else, including but not limited to:

  • Resignation
  • Medical Separation
  • Administrative Separation
  • Interrupted Service
  • Evacuation

Resignation
Resignations are called ETs (Early Terminations) but almost all Peace Corps posts despite the fact there are 5 classifications of an “Early Termination of Service.” Confused yet? This is when a PCV resigns and leaves their country of service. A resignation can be either the PCVs decision or a choice given in lieu of Administrative Separation.

Resignation is the most common way PCVs leave service. A PCV cannot receive COS status if they resign.

Medical Separation
This happens when a medical issue cannot be resolved within 45 days. I saw this happen exactly two times during my service in Ethiopia and both were at the PCVs 24th month of service (hence the decision to just medically separate instead of resolving in 45 days). I don’t know how common it is, but it does happen to some of the best volunteers. Medical separations are often called “med sep.”

COS status is at the discretion of the Country Director in the case of medical separation.

Administrative Separation
Here is the official wording for an administrative separation (usually referred to as “admin sep”):
“A Volunteer may be administratively separated for unsatisfactory conduct or performance; violation of any Peace Corps policy, including those in the Peace Corps Manual, whether agency-wide or post-specific; or other grounds that diminish the effectiveness of the Volunteer or the Peace Corps program, as determined in the sole discretion of the Peace Corps.”

Basically, if you are being a terrible volunteer, violating rules or otherwise not being effective. I’ve never heard of an admin sep for being ineffective or a bad volunteer, it’s generally gross disregard for the rules and regulations Peace Corps has laid down and being caught while doing so. I know of two cases here in Ethiopia, so it’s not all that common. As mentioned above, you are allowed to resign instead of being admin sepped. Administrative Separation is usually equated to being dishonorably discharged by the military, so most people avoid it if possible.

A PCV cannot receive COS status if they are administratively separated.

Interrupted Service
We’ve had quite a few Interrupted Services (or IS) happen here in Ethiopia recently. Due to some protests, a lot of PCVs have to be moved out of their sites. PCVs were split into 3 categories: Early COS (under 3 months left), IS (4-6 months left) and site change (over 6 months of service left). An IS is given when a PCV can no longer do their job, for whatever reason. Here in Ethiopia, that was people in unsafe sites who did not feel that a site change would be worthwhile and they could not do meaningful work in the remaining time. I’ve heard of other IS situations where a PCV’s host organization decided they no longer wanted to work with the PCV, for whatever reason, so the PCVs were given IS instead of being moved (usually in the last 6 months of service).

A volunteer with IS can receive COS status at the discretion of the Country Director.

Evacuation
If your host country is evacuated by Peace Corps for whatever reason (such as instability in Ukraine and Kenya and Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), PCVs are evacuated to safety. This is not a choice an individual PCV gets to make. If you are evacuated, you are immediately given COS status or offered a transfer to another post.

So there you have it! The different ways one’s Peace Corps service can end.

More detail can be found in the Peace Corps Volunteer Manual section MS 284 called “Early Termination of Service.”