The recent announcement that my husband and I had joined the Peace Corps was greeted with the nearly unanimous enthusiasm of our friends and family. It was the lone voice of my second daughter that questioned the wisdom and motivation behind our decision. Tiffany expressed a range of concerns, from the potential for “getting tapeworms the size of a lasagna box” to the query, “Why not just help us instead?” It is in response to this latter question that I write.
I believe that by working with others in a developing nation, I am in fact helping my daughters here at home. The results may not be as immediate; yet, I hope they will be deep, broad, and long-lasting. But why now, in mid-life, would I give up my rather idyllic life as a self-employed artist and commit twenty-seven months to this effort?
There are two factors which have formed the undercurrent of my daily life over the years. They have affected, in fundamental ways, my artwork, studies, activism and volunteer work, as well as the task and joy of raising three daughters. My belief in the combined power of conscience and capacity has guided me through many life choices, and now urges me to serve future generations by volunteering in the Peace Corps.
Conscience is the voice that has told me, since I was a little girl, that we are all in this together. As a daughter, I hurt to witness my mother’s death from a lingering illness; as a friend, I cry when another struggles or feels pain; and, as a mother, I fill with the rage of righteous indignation when my girls, now women, experience inequities and injustice. I believe this voice of empathy roots our connectedness even as it informs my own thoughts and deeds. In this light, my work in the Peace Corps will indeed be a “Tour of Conscience.”
The other factor, capacity, is a word often used in development philosophy. I view it as potential, a flexible vessel that we each carry, awaiting the growing contents of our unique humanity. As decades of life experience have increased my capacity — for closeness, intelligence, usefulness — I now offer my assets in the aid of others, as yet unknown to me. All the while, I know that capacity-building is a two-way street; the relationships I may build and the contributions I may make will feed me as well as those to whom I extend a hand; and, the newfound capacity I earn through this experience will surely enrich my post-service life.
This understanding of a shared self-interest gives me hope that my upcoming volunteer experience will play some small role in creating a climate of peace and justice in our world. Following my conscience and striving to reach my full capacity are both a way of life and a means to an end.
So, my dear Tiffany, as I prepare to leave for my assignment, I answer your question with the gift of my help in the form of Peace Corps service, for you, your sisters, daughters, and nieces. For this I believe: it is within the context of global peace and justice that people everywhere, including my own loved ones, may be inspired and enabled to follow their own conscience and to reach their full capacity.
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