Amy Schmitz and Jason Harris have life-changing experience in Peace Corps in Vanuatu
Schools in Vanuatu would shut down for two months during the hurricane season, Schmitz said. “For those months everyone left the school except us,” she said. This is when the couple was truly secluded. They were without phone service, electricity and running water. They had to collect rain water as their water source. They had to walk everywhere as there were no roads. “It’s not your typical Peace Corps experience,” Harris said.
While Schmitz and Harris had some hairy experiences, they said they wouldn’t change their time in Vanuatu for anything. “It was fabulous. It was the most amazing experience,” Schmitz said. “I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would, and more. What I enjoyed about it was different than what I originally thought I’d enjoy. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
“You learn to relax and I learned what I can and can’t do,” Harris said. “It taught me flexibility because we didn’t have the materials there (we’d have elsewhere).” “I learned tolerance and patience,” Schmitz said. “You have to keep an open mind. It also made me aware of the kind of teacher I wanted to be.”
The two believe it was a good idea for them to wait until they had been married a few years before they went into the Peace Corps. “That’s what made it work,” Schmitz said. “You have to have a strong relationship. It’s stressful to live in a new culture, and if we wouldn’t have known each other (as well as we did), it would’ve been even more difficult.” The couple has two children: 3-year-old Theron (named after a Peace Corps volunteer they served with) and 1 1/2-year-old Aran. “I hope our kids have the same curiosity about the world and cultures that we do,” Schmitz said. “I also would like to instill in our children a sense of gratitude for the country we live in and a desire to help others less fortunate than ourselves. If they should choose to serve in the Peace Corps, I would be very supportive of that decision.”
“I also hope our kids will travel independently and even join the Peace Corps to get a better sense of the world and a realization that there actually are other countries, cultures and ideas out there — not just for personal growth and sharing with others, but to develop a sense that American foreign policy matters to the world,” Harris said. “We are not alone and should not act like it.” Read more.
Vanuatu Peace Corps Volunteer Tim Dobson has a volcano at his doorstep
"The island of Ambae, which is about 2 miles from my island, which I can see from m front yard, was supposed to erupt the whole first year I was there. It is an active volcano with a lake in its crater. So as the story goes all we needed was a decent earthquake to crack the lake bottom so the water could flow in and really get the pot stirred up. Well, the whole time I was there we had about 15 to 20 tremors but I guess none quite big enough to trigger the volcano, so no show. The day I land back in the states, the sucker goes off! 9,000 or so feet up in the air it shoots smoke and ash. The story they are telling back on Maewo, is that the gods were upset that the white man left, that’s me, and there not sure he will return, however, when he gets back from America bearing gifts, the water which flows freely on Maewo will put the volcano out. I told you it was a different culture. I’ll let you know how it turns out."
"Other than the obvious modern amenities, what are some of the differences and similarities if any between the two cultures? You know people are people no matter where you are. Everybody wants a good life and to provide for their children. The difference in life styles are too many to write and most people wouldn’t or don’t care to understand. The people on Maewo where I live, live in poverty by most people’s standards … but they are not starving, they grow their own food and we have plenty of water. They are very happy people, you never hear them complain, they laugh a lot, not too many worries. It really is what most people in America say they work their butt off trying to achieve." Read more.
Vanuatu RPCVs Christie and Eric Nelson provide an example for vehicle-addicted Americans that there is another way to move
The source of Eric and Christie Nelson’s motivation - the impetus for walking an hour to church, biking for miles on a scorching summer day to get to college classes, trudging through snow to run errands or go to work - is varied. Eric said his mom walked to work for years. And his first dramatic foray into alternative forms of traveling occurred while the Albert Lea resident was attending the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City. "I biked home from school one year," he said. Christie said she grew up in a nonrecycling, conversion-van driving family, but majoring in biology and environmental studies changed her thinking. "It brought a new level of awareness and responsibility, I guess," she said.
"The physical, emotional and spiritual gains are great when you bike and walk. I think all of us know exercise is essential for a healthy body. It feels good to move our bodies, propelling it with our own power. In addition to keeping fit, we look forward to our commute as a time to refresh our minds, reconnect with one another and thank our Creator for the blessings of the new day."
The couple, who met while fifth-graders in Albert Lea, had an eye-opening experience about appreciating the luxuries of America while serving in the Peace Corps in the South Pacific island-country of Vanuatu. And they learned about America’s natural resources and beauty - not to mention getting a lesson about their personal stamina - while spending four months walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. "When people say, "Oh, it’s not walking distance,’ that expression just tickles me," Christie said. "Because what’s walking distance? Is it Georgia to Maine? That’s walking distance." Read more.