December 14, 2013

Where I've Been for the Last 5 Months

It's been a long time since I've posted here, but not without good reason. I finally had my first full-time job since living in Mexico. For those of you who don't know that was seven years ago.  I was lucky enough to make it on savings for the first couple years here. But since then, it's been a long string of short-term part-time jobs, mostly teaching English, writing and editing, and the occasional environmental workshops and consulting gigs.

But this most recent professional experience was something else. It was the kind of job I've been wanting to have for years, a unique position that combined my background as a non-formal environmental education expert with a solid, successful, long-term, U.S. government program to provide American volunteers for environmental projects across Mexico. I'm talking about the Peace Corps Mexico Environment Program.

I can't say enough good things about this program. I got to work with volunteers who dedicate 2 years of their lives to advancing positive social change, who contribute their backgrounds in the environmental sciences, their other related skills, cultural curiosity and general goodwill, in a foreign nation that embraces their arrival and seeks to learn and collaborate. As if that weren't enough, the program also boasts a talented staff of trainers and administrative support, many of whom are experts in their fields, who are dedicated to the program's growth and development over the years. This fall, I was able to call these fabulous folks my coworkers. 

I was lucky enough to become a part of this stellar team 5 years after I first learned of the program in 2008, through friends. I'll never forget that night—I was invited to the election night celebration when Obama gave his victory speech, which was at the home of a former volunteer. I met the director at the time, and then during the summer of 2009, I volunteered in their library. From there I made the acquaintance of the Environment program manager, who learned of my professional background as an environmental educator in the U.S. and Mexico. In the years that followed, in my daughter's infant years, I returned to give workshops during their pre-service and mid-service trainings. I made more contacts with volunteers and learned more about what their service entails. This past summer, right around the time we were delivering Amor and Exile to Congress, I learned of a one-of-a-kind opportunity to serve as the interim Environmental Education Training Specialist from July to December of this year. Unlike the permanent position, this position did not require travel, as it would essentially be limited to 2 trainings in Queretaro. It didn't take me long to make up my mind. I applied, and I got the job. Like any new job, it had its special learning curve—and in this particular one with the U.S. government, I had a new acronym-based language and the "Peace Corps Approach" to learn. But beyond that, I was in my element. 

I could go on and on about how great a fit this position was with my skills, passion, and background. I was able to draw on many elements of my experience with sustainable development and as a curriculum developer, and my time as a teacher. I was finally able to take everything that I'd learned during my whole Mexico culture-shock experience and apply it as something helpful toward new arrivals' adjustment to the Mexican culture process. I could draw on my experience as a non-formal educator in order to prepare a team of non-formal educators. And best of all, even though I am bilingual, I got to polish my Spanish thanks to my coworkers. 

Running an environmental education training was A LOT of work but also a lot of FUN. We took field trips to local natural areas, botanical gardens, and sustainable learning centers. We met with local teachers, schools, and students, and the trainees devised environmental education activities and an EcoFair in Mexico state. We reached over 200 schoolkids in our 3 visits to schools. We laughed, we danced, we built a wood-efficient stove, a garden, a compost, a solar dehydrator, a solar oven, and a greywater filter. The volunteers I worked with were experienced, positive, and motivated. Everyone shared, learned, and grew. I could go on and on.
With PCM volunteers and staff at the top of Parque Nacional el Cimatario
But sadly, this incredible experience had to come to an end, this past week. It was to be expected, in fact, it was planned—to coincide with the week after the last training of 2013. As I mentioned before, the reason I could pursue this position was that it was based almost entirely in Querétaro. Almost as soon as I entered, a hiring process was underway to select a permanent training specialist, which I was invited to apply for, but the downside is that it requires a significant amount of travel (estimated at nearly 40%)—in order to visit volunteers at sites and develop new sites.

At first glance, this seems ideal—see dozens of natural areas in Mexico as part of your job. And the truth is, if I didn't have a child, it would be. In fact, I did apply for the position once before, in the Fall of 2012. But when I found out about the travel requirement, and that policy does not allow minor family members to accompany staff during travel, I had to pull out of the running. I simply couldn't make the commitment to being away from home for that amount of time with such a small child. 

So while the interim, Querétaro-based position was near-perfect, the permanent, travel-required position was not a realistic possibility for me and my family. I chose not to apply this summer, since the policies had not changed, and made up my mind to give these 5 months my all while I had the chance. I am happy to say that it was worth it. I feel a strong pull to be as present as possible in my daughter's life, and we all feel happy to be together more. As for the job, beyond all the wonderful environmental education and resource conservation work that volunteers do, the best thing about Peace Corps Mexico (PCM) are the people themselves. The relationships I formed with both staff and volunteers, and the experiences we shared are irreplaceable. 

I feel very grateful to have had this professional opportunity where I both learned and contributed a great deal. I'm obviously looking forward to the possibility of going back someday. In the meantime, I will be rededicating myself to past projects, so hopefully you will be seeing more of me here, and hear about new developments as well. And if any volunteers or former coworkers happen to read this, good luck, and thanks for all you do. You're doing amazing things!

On our way to a local school with Environmental Education volunteers

1 comment:

Your comments are welcome!