Rushville Republican

Features

July 23, 2007

Secondary Project in Peace Corps can become a first priority

Why is it that "second" always gets a bad rap. Second hand clothes, second prize, second-fiddle, second-rate, second-string. I saw a running T-shirt once that said "Second place is the first loser." In the Peace Corps, however, second can become a first priority.

Every Peace Corps volunteer is placed with a host organization to work with. That organization provides work, guidance and supervision for the volunteer, helping them to infiltrate into the culture and to become accustomed to society norms. The host organization is where the volunteer spends a majority of his or her time working. My organization is Compassion International, a fantastic children’s aid organization that works ceaselessly to release children from the grip of poverty. I work a normal 9 to 5 schedule five days a week which leaves a fair amount of time before and after work for other activities. In the Peace Corps these are called Secondary Projects and they can be a time that PCVs can branch out and put their own unique and creative stamp on their community.

My first Secondary Project sort of fell into my lap. Each morning, at the first crack of dawn, I lace up my running shoes and hit the dirt road. I start and end my route just outside a boarding school (a secondary school, nonetheless). One day I just figured that as long as I’m running I should see if any of the kids there would like to run with me. I went and talked to the head teacher about it and he told me that I was welcome to invite the students to join me and that I might find some boys who were willing to run but that the girls wouldn’t come. "Girls don’t enjoy exercising," he told me which parallels some of the beliefs here that women are second-class citizens. I told him that I’d still like to invite them to join. I expected that I could find maybe a dozen students interested if I was lucky. The next morning, much to my surprise, I had 40 kids show up, half of which were girls. Since then I’ve had almost 100 students run at some point in time and I was even able to collect 30 pairs of gently used running shoes when I went home and have since distributed them to my most dedicated runners. Each morning I teach the kids the importance running can have to their lives as it has been to mine. Running improves one’s physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being. Studies have shown that students who exercise perform better in school. It requires self-discipline and motivation. The prospect of getting shoes also encourages them to run. Most run either barefoot or in flip flops, and the girls generally run in skirts.

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