Peace Corps Week celebrates President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. This year is the 55th anniversary of the Peace Corps, and service never ends.
Peace Corps Volunteers go on to become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), because there is always the third goal: bringing the experience home to promote a better understanding of other cultures. For me it’s meant reviewing the work of other RPCVs, like Kevin G. Finch, who recounts his experience as a volunteer in Honduras (2004-’06) in Paradise in Front of Me.
The recurring image in Kevin G. Finch’s Paradise in Front of Me is that of an impoverished Honduran child looking up at a locked schoolhouse door. Shut out again. The author and the residents of El Paraíso repeatedly find their plans scuttled: by naked madmen in San Juan, cancelled classes in Monte Cristo, failed transportation to Cuyalí, striking teachers, impassable rivers, travelinggringo evangelicals . . . there’s no end to the obstacles in this Honduran state near the border with Nicaragua. “The teachers are on strike,” Finch writes towards the end, “and another day is wasted in the future of Honduras. The child blinks his eyes to bat away the drops of rain running down from his soaked hair. He looks left and then right. Slumping his shoulders, he heads for home, his empty notebook in hand.”
This forlorn image is exactly what makes the collection of vignettes so uplifting at its close. Finch and his wife Cristina spent two years (minus a Christmas in Virginia) tucked away in the hills of southern Honduras, navigating the frustrations of living where “those in positions to make a difference seem indifferent.” The two Volunteers defy this apathy with an operational credo of their own, one which mirrors the straightforward, can-do attitude conveyed by the narrative. “We learn to be disappointed for a moment and then plan how we will adjust. We are Paraiseño now, no more, no less. We live in a Third World town and this means nothing, absolutely nothing, is easy.” More importantly, having vowed to avoid the same fatalism that paralyzes so many of their neighbors, the two remain sensitive to the fact that for them the difficulties exist only within a defined period. For the local Paraiseño, hardship lasts a lifetime.