Thousands of Americans world-wide work to improve the circumstances of the people with whom they've opted to live for a two-year period of time in some of the most remote and most trying locales and circumstances.
We don't just sample a different way of life. We swim in it, in all its glory, strangeness and frustration. During this time we work to support people in learning English, repairing vital community structures, developing skills and bringing about much needed development at the most local level. We might have the opportunity to bring clean water to populations without such access, or to fix a road, reconnecting a community with the region.
In all the Peace Corps does we are reminded to not focus on “building monuments,” large physical installations of one kind or another, but rather on “building people.”
It is a credo one of my bosses passed on to us and that a number of my colleagues here in Bulgaria have taken to heart -- begrudgingly so -- because of the tremendously sobering perspective it brings forth.
It is infinitely easier to build things than it is to build people.
Indeed we cannot build people at all. We can sometimes indulge in the illusion that such a thing is possible, but it is no more possible to build people than it is to build the spinach you'll enjoy this week, nor the tomatoes and strawberries we all look forward to in summer.
The growth of our friends, our family, neighbors and co-workers, of ourselves, is an organic process not unlike farming. It is one we cannot do so much as participate in, as we provide the circumstances for it to occur in the most wondrous, enriching, and empowering way.
And that is why we begrudge it, for it is a categorically more difficult and more ambiguous task. A task all people, in all places must commit to.
Not to build ourselves, but to foster our growth and the success and happiness of those around us, through our relationships and the sharing of our joys, abilities, interests and insights.
Through the sharing of ourselves.
Often this comes in the form of something as simple and yet as profound as the word, "Yes." Before anything in life can change, the people involved first have to decide that it is possible and that they are the ones to do it. This fundamentally begins with the change from "No," to "Yes." Helping someone come to this new conclusion is a crucial step in fostering their growth as well as our own, because to take part in and witness such a transformation changes everyone involved.
A "Yes" where there was once a "No" can change the world, and indeed will change yours.
So about what have you been telling yourself "no," where you truly wish there was a "yes?" Give yourself permission to say, "Yes" to the very next thing you must do to benefit your community, your world, and I will do the same.
And by the end of this letter we will have already changed the world in a crucial way. We will have set the snowball down the hill on its path toward a future more glorious and just as dependent upon our participation - a future that is our life's work.
I thank you for that work.
Cameron Ottens, COD-PCV, Bulgaria-26