An RPCV’s Reflections on A Culture of Service
By Guest Contributor on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
During a July 2012 #RPCVChat on Twitter, the National Peace Corps Association posed questions about patriotism and service. Joey Noelle responded by offering to turn some of her tweets into a blog post. Below is her story.
“We love you, but why did you leave your mother?”
The bo-‘m’e (women) of my village in the small country of Lesotho often asked me this. I got the question especially after I explained that I was the eldest of only two daughters in my family. My personal reasons for joining the Peace Corps in the winter of 2009 are reasons we’ve all heard before, adventure, travel, professional growth, personal growth, to do some good in the world, etc. Seven months returned and I’ve found that the professional growth goal far exceeded all my expectations, but that’s a story for another time. As a volunteer, those answers always seemed long and complicated to explain (especially in a second language.) So I reserved that time for my host sisters and close friends. To the others, I focused on the culture of service in America.
First, it’s necessary to make clear that in Lesotho, when you use the word culture to explain something, it is taken as a given. For example the answer to the question, “Why aren’t women allowed to stand in the doorway?” is “It’s our culture.” It was also the answer to the question, “Why can’t I walk through a herd of cows?” and “Why shouldn’t a woman ask her husband to wear a condom?” But again, I digress, one of the many reasons we all join up is truly to serve.
Explaining the American culture of service to my community members started with just that phrase and it was already taken as truth. I would expand to say that in my home culture, we value service and giving our time to those in need, sharing expertise, and helping to make some one else’s life just a little bit better gives us happiness. These are rooted in the history of our country and culture. I honestly believe this. From scouting groups that impart the importance service on our youth through required projects, Key Clubs in high schools all across America, church groups of every faith (and non-faith), Youth Corps, AmeriCorps, the recognition and respect we give our civil servants and the military, and the terrific success of so many America-based non-profits, service is a unifying part of American culture. It’s a part of our culture that doesn’t get as much credit as it should.
Americans have a culture of service of which we should be proud. We gave $347 billion to charities last year (Source: atlasofgiving.com). In 2009, 63.4 million Americans donated over 8 billion hours of their time to charitable organizations. (nationalservice.gov) We are the most charitable country in the world (Source: Charity Aid Foundation).
“More than half (55%) of all RPCVs reported that they regularly volunteer in their local community, double the national average for volunteering in the United States… And 39% of RPCVs have raised money or other resources to help people abroad.”
(Source: A Call to Peace: Perspectives of Volunteers on the Peace Corps at 50)
Among a plethora of other things I learned about myself, my country, and the world, Peace Corps reminded me of the positive connection between being an American and serving others. And that makes me extra patriotic this July.
Joey Noelle Lehnard continues her service here at home by doing book seeding and library advocacy through her website, www.thestorysailboat.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JoeyElle.