- Posted February 15, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
50 years of the Peace Corps
I didn't get my love of travel from my Peace Corps experience (Mauritania, West Africa, 1985-1987); I had been a world traveler before and have remained one to this day. Since Peace Corps, I have had the opportunity to live in 5 nations and visit for work or play another 35 or so more. What Peace Corps did for me was to give me the ability to withstand many subsequent hardships with a smile, to realize that there is so much that we (from the developed world) have for which we are not sufficiently grateful. Today I am living in Lima, Peru and working in science in Latin America, trying to bring state of the art science skills and decision-making to people who need assistance. This week and next I will be in Peru working on REDD carbon credit development, last week in Guyana with the Guyana Forestry Commission, the week after I will be in Tarapoto or Lima or Guatemala or some other region or city, and so on. Wherever I go, I find that there are people who can benefit from capacity building at some level and that there is not enough of this going on. Through my Peace Corps experience, I was able to realize that it is more important to help others than to be concerned about self-gratification, because in the process of helping others, you grow while others are growing and become happy about yours and their progress. Through Peace Corps, I had the opportunity to create tree seedlings and plant them as a windbreak near the women's cooperative vegetable garden with the men and women with whom I lived. I didn't know what was going to happen with these. My experience then led me to believed that they would become just another unsupported development project and that these young stems would whither in the Saharan sun and heat, eaten by the goats and camels that flourish those parts. But much to my surprise, these trees became a memoriam to our common efforts. These Halpulaar farmers and gardeners wanted their village to have trees just like those in seen elsewhere. The trees became shade for the many women, young and old alike, who tirelessly worked these garden plots, yet they only existed because someone decided that they must be watered, to grow and become strong. I ended up studying the growth of trees and forests geographically through my professional work for much of the rest of my life. I helped build maps and models of forest growth in five continents, planting trees in at least two. Last year I had the opportunity to learn from a recent Peace Corps volunteer who had been placed in my Mauritanian village, and who had been the first put there since I had been an agricultural volunteer in the region some 25 years before. She sent recent pictures of the village family with whom I had lived, the same family that became hers many years later, and the trees that I had grown from seed and planted lovingly with them and other villagers. Today that windbreak that we planted then is a small forest visible from Google Earth where there once was nothing but dirt and hard-packed stones.