Thank a Volunteer
Last week, when I was in the Atlanta airport waiting my final flight, I was talking with a man who asked what I had been doing in Suriname. I told him about my Peace Corps service, and he said “thank you for your service”.
I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say that. Most people, when I tell them I (was doing or) did Peace Corps, either did not say anything or, if they knew someone who had also been in PC, mentioned that person and where the person served. Few people say thank you.
Not that I expect it – I mean, even though more than 200,000 people have served in Peace Corps in its 50-year existence, it is still a relatively uncommon thing to do (yes, we are an elite breed, we volunteers!) and many people don’t even know what is involved in it. We don’t carry guns, invade countries, train to protect the president, or rescue people. The people who serve in Peace Corps, in fact, do something that is far more subtle: we build relationships, break stereotypes, help develop skills, and encourage people in different countries to learn more about the world outside of their own small radius.
Is what we do so subtle that it is not understood and indeed, unappreciated? Why is it that we are not more valued, both when we are serving and after we return? After our return, we get a one year “non-compete” status when applying for positions with the federal government (and if you know anything about applying for the federal government, you know that one year is not very long to have this status). We do not get unemployment benefits. We are eligible for COBRA coverage (but without any money coming in, who can afford it?). We join a network of like-minded people with whom we can talk and feel like may understand us a bit.
Other than that, though, your average American only really knows about Peace Corps if s/he knows someone who served or has heard/read horror stories in the news. But it would be nice if more people understood a bit more, were a little more open-minded about learning what Peace Corps is and what Volunteers do (and the long-term good our work does), if a few more said “thank you for your service”, and if people appreciated what we went through (hey, it IS Peace Corps, so it IS difficult).
This post is not meant to be a rant, or a whine. If it reaches a few people who otherwise would never think to say “thank you”, then it has served its purpose. It is meant to express how under-appreciated we are, and to encourage anyone who reads it and knows or meets someone who has served to say those four little words that mean so much.
So next time you meet a Volunteer or Returned Volunteer, say thank you and if you know the person well enough, give her or him a hug. It will mean more than you know.