Monday, August 29, 2011

Departing Thoughts

August 25, 2011

Was it worth it? I mean leaving my family to return to Samoa as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

For me, yes. For others, I guess you have to ask them.

What I wanted to do more than anything else was to significantly impact the way Samoans relate weight to health. Obesity is the “Elephant in the room”. It is so big as to be almost unrecognizable by those in the room and seemingly too big to tame. Yet, obesity is the reason why so many Samoans suffer from its effects of diabetes, hypertension, sleep disorders, gout, and joint problems. It saps the strength of this tiny and once vigorous nation.

Call it a gimmick or a stroke of understanding, but 5,000 pink vinyl wristbands, a Samoan BMI chart, and Biblical verses served as my entry into the Samoan mind. They served to demonstrate how a simple program, offering a simple message, and being demonstrated in a simple, yet Samoan way, can affect people’s behavior. The monster could be tackled, only if the “man in the mirror” cares to recognize the problem as his own.

It is now time to collect and analyze the data. A concluding report needs to be written and hopefully read. The data and report cannot convey the feeling of a woman who is having sex again or a person who feels better because a wristband can be slipped off a once chubby hand, or people walking, or drinking water, or taking the salt container off the table. Samoans, like anyone else in the world, want to look, feel, and be better.

What is next for me?

For the Peace Corps there is a report on ways volunteer teachers can provide some health education for children, parents, and teachers where none exists today, and to see if an organization would sponsor another Peace Corps Response Volunteer.

For my nascent efforts with the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Culture, their Sports for Development program and the Australian Sports Authority who are sponsoring that program, I have a sense of a continued relationship in the months ahead. Their combined resources are what are needed to affect real change.

Finally, it is off to a West Virginia mountain top camp, along with others who served with Mary and me, over Labor Day weekend to attend the wedding of Hannah Goldman and her Samoan fiancé, Jay. Then there is a trip to The Gambia in Africa next month to visit another Peace Corps Volunteer.

My Peace Corps luggage tag reads, “Life is calling. How far will you go?”

I wish I knew the answer.

I do know how lucky I am to have the opportunity to apply what few skills I possess and to have an understanding, supportive family.

Now it is time to start my 48 hour journey back home to those whom I love.

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