18 April 2010

Application Timeline

And so it all ends with this enigmatic invitation letter. All the blood (quite literally), urine, 7 months of Tuberculosis medication, additional vaccinations, vision and hearing examinations, dental root canal treatments (still not completed as of yet!), battles with my Peace Corps medical evaluation assistant, my anxieties, doubts, fears, hopes, and expectations, all have lead  inexorably to this letter that many Peace Cops hopefuls never see. I pseudo-expected that I would receive an invitation letter some weeks before it actually came in the mail, but it's cruel how Peace Corps makes you wait, day after agonizing day for it to arrive so that when it finally does, you rip open the 1.5'' paper packet which is not paper at all, but some sort of reinforced cloth material that requires a hacksaw to open and only adds unnecessarily to the pain. I can't really describe the emotions I felt once reading that I'd been selected to serve in Sierra Leone. Sometime in the past, in a feeble attempt to obtain some sort of certainty over where I'd be sent, I narrowed down a list of countries in the continent of Africa where science educators were sent. Needles to say, Sierra Leone was not on that list. So I guess that I was a bit bemused, but excited nonetheless, I was no longer in the dark!

Peace Corps has had a notable presence in Sierra Leone, ever since 1962, when the Peace Corps program first began under the auspices of President John F. Kennedy. The program ended abruptly in 1994 due to steadily rising violence from the ensuing civil war and is just now returning to the country, 15 years later, and about 8 years since the civil war was officially declared over by then president Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah who incidentally has the same first name as the friend and war compatriot Ishmael Beah who wrote A Long Way one, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (A must read!) Incidentally, up until then, there were approximately 3,479 Peace Corps volunteers who served in Sierra Leone, ranking it 4th in the number of volunteers who are sent to serve in Africa. I am part of the first cohort of approximately 40 education volunteers to return to Sierra Leone since the commencement of the war and I'm being given a unique opportunity to help plant the seeds of sustainable development.

I have spent the better part of the past month networking with former Returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV)  in addition to individuals, students and organizations who are or have done work in Sierra Leone. Everyone I've talked to has not only given me great advice, they've also expressed their excitement that Peace Corps is returning to Sierra Leone. I'm scheduled to fly to Washington D.C. on June 2-3 for a two-three day orientation and then I will fly to Sierra Leone for my three month training in Makeni, Sierra Leone, based on the information I've received from Peggy Murrah, a RPCV in Sierra Leone and executive director of Friends of Sierra Leone, and Richard Frazier, another RPCV in Sierra Leone and a current teacher trainer. I have so many things to take care of and loose ends to tie and quite frankly I feel overwhelmed when I think about all the things I've yet to do. 

Below I'm listing a rough time line for those interested in applying to be a Peace Corps volunteer so that they can have an idea of just how long it takes to get past all of the bureaucratic hurdles. Keep in mind however that each individual's time line is highly personal and depends on how motivated one is and, how many health problems one has:

13 November 2008: Preliminary online application submitted.

11 December 2008: One-on-one interview with Peace Corps recruiter, Charles Lucking at Dallas, TX regional office.

4 January 2009: Arrive at Greenburgh Nature Center to begin my position as an environmental educator. I took this position with the hopes that it would give me more environmental education experience for the Peace Corps since environmental education was my first choice, followed by science education.

2 February 2009: Received news form Charles that I was nominated for a science education position in sub-Saharan Africa scheduled to leave on Jan/Feb/Mar (Big range!)

2 February 2009 - 15 July 2009: Voluntarily terminate the application process (In hindsight not a wise move!) only to pick it up again to begin my medical evaluation process.

29 July 2009: I begin my six month Isoniazid (INH) treatment for Tuberculosis. 

18 December 2009: FINALLY receive my medical clearance from the office of medical services.

27 January 2010: Finish my INH treatment.

3 February 2010: Begin root canal treatment (Still unfinished and I've yet to receive my dental clearance).

5 February 2010: Obtain eye examinations for glasses.

10 March 2010: Receive formal invitation letter.

17 March 2010: Formally accept invitation.

2-3 June 2010: Depart for Washington D.C.

Since that day, I've been extremely busy writing additional essays and updated résumés, turning in Sierra Leone visa applications, agonizing over whether to apply for insurance for any valuables I may bring with me, and figuring out to pack. I will post an updated packing list once I have a good idea what I'm bringing!