I attempted to listen as my friend Antonio, a neighbor in the community where I lived and worked, explained my symptoms to the doctor in Spanish. He needed to get this right. I hardly had the energy to look at the doctor and explain my condition to him. With doctors and nurses hovering over me, the saline began to relieve my dehydration. Fatigue and medication combined to put me to sleep.
Hours later the doctor revealed I had Dengue, a life-threatening disease I contracted from a mosquito. This was my second stay at a Salvadoran hospital in less than a year since the beginning of my service.
Upon my return to my home community from the hospital, Antonio’s six–year-old daughter, Maiza, asked me if I was too sick to stay in El Salvador and would return to the United States. I was sick and uncomfortable. I decided to be honest with Maiza, I told her I had considered leaving, but explained that life sometimes calls one to sacrifice his or her own wellbeing for the wellbeing of others. I further explained that my visit to the hospital only strengthened my resolve to stay and continue to contribute and give back to a community that gave me such a strong sense of purpose.
This community cared about me. Maiza cared about me. Every day I didn’t see Maiza in the neighborhood she would come and find me and ask the usual question: “Estas bien?” (“Are you OK?”) I would tell her yes and she would interrogate me on why I had not come outside that day to visit her.
Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer was at times very difficult. As a volunteer I developed budgets, drafted proposals, planned and executed a census, created blueprints for a dam, taught high school students English and sex education, and worked to increase self-esteem through leadership workshops for women. It was the unexpected and often times tragic occurrences, though, that made my Peace Corps experience most relevant.
I lived, worked, and befriended many individuals facing great challenges, such as six-year-old children not able to attend school because they had to work in the fields from five in the morning until eight in the evening; women being abused by their husbands and scared to report it to the police or seek help due to believing the abuse was their fault; and young girls being raped and then impregnated by their own fathers or uncles.
There were great times where the love my Salvadoran community had for me proved true and unwavering. Maiza and all of the members of my community in El Salvador helped me to learn Spanish, cooked for me when I couldn’t figure out how to work the wood oven, prayed over me when I was sick, and even taught me how to wash clothes with my hands (which proved to be more difficult than one would think). Most importantly, my Salvadoran community taught me to appreciate cultures different from mine.
Now living back in the United States, I yearn for what I felt in El Salvador. I miss the sense of community and how the people there gave so much to me, even though they possessed so little. To this day I have Maiza’s ribbon. It hangs on the frame that holds my Peace Corps certificate. Frequently I look at that certificate and then at that ribbon and remember a little girl who loved me regardless of my nationality, skin color or, at the time, broken Spanish. She loved me because I loved her. That ribbon and my experience in El Salvador will always remain in my heart along with my love for Maiza and the people of El Salvador.
Give HOPE. Live HOPE.
About the Author
Originally from Charleston, SC, China Dickerson aspires to be an advocate for the marginalized and underserved. As an undergraduate at Howard University, Ms. Dickerson worked at the U.S. Department of Justice where she assisted attorneys in advocating for the human right to a clean living environment. Upon graduating from Howard, Ms. Dickerson served in the U.S. Peace Corps in El Salvador where for two years she assisted community members by organizing and facilitating leadership and women’s rights workshops, teaching English as a second language at the local high school and fundraising to institute women’s sewing and cosmetology classes. Currently, Ms. Dickerson is a law student at Howard University School of Law and law clerk at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This post is a part of our “Life After Graduation” series, check back all week for new posts on the variety of paths available for life after graduation.