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Posts from the ‘Liz’s Primary Peace Corps Project’ Category

Please vote for City Year LA to expand to more schools

City Year Los Angeles has applied for a grant to expand to two high schools — Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights and Jordan High in Watts. (Yes, this would mean my Markham students would get City Year at Jordan High — the school Markham feeds into!)

Please help move Los Angeles forward by following the steps and voting here:

Thank you!

Why I didn’t write a goodbye post

I’ve been back in America for exactly a month now. However, during the time in July prior to my goodbye in South Africa and until now, I was never inspired to write a blog post about it.

I had reached a point in my service that I was very, very ready. Ready to go, ready to say goodbye, and ready to jump into the next thing.

Simply put, I was ready to jump into my next move because I felt I had done as much as I could at site. I was in a complacent place with my work and knowing that I made a difference. I did what I could do without burning out to an extreme.

I was ready to say goodbye because I couldn’t stay there forever. As much as I loved my host family, I’m not part of their culture and must return to mine at some point.

I was ready to go because I was incredibly sick of being harassed (to a point where some new drunk idiots moved in by my taxi stop and would cat call me in my own village). I had a lot of anger built up inside of me toward the country, specifically because the way men act and how women are treated. Two years was, good god, enough.

I find it rather sad that I left with some of these feelings, because I had an incredible experience and don’t regret it one bit. But, sometimes you’re just ready. My patience grew weaker as time went on, likely because I knew America was around the corner.

The next jump for me will be graduate school at NYU to obtain my MPA. In the future, I hope to start my own nonprofit or be the director of communications of a nonprofit that focuses on public education in the US. (City Year!) I’ve got plenty of years to figure that out, but I’ll still be in the public service sector. I hope to have interesting things to continue to write about — but for now, I’m just a lost puppy wandering around NYC and getting “acquainted”.

Thank you to everyone who followed my post-undergraduate service journey in one way or another! For any City Year or Peace Corps hopefuls, please use my archives as a resource. Always feel free to contact me with any questions about either programs (contact tab above). I encourage you all to serve our country or another, and I’ll keep doing the same!

Three years and out. I’ll be back writin’ soon enough 🙂

Yours in service,

Month 21 & 22: the implementation gap

Now that these two years are coming to an end, I’ve recently had an unexpected revelation: Explaining one’s Peace Corps service to someone outside of Peace Corps – in a few words – might as well be more challenging than the Peace Corps itself. There are so many different aspects of our two years that make up our Peace Corps service as a whole, but takes practice to summarize into a one liner. As I flail and try to enter the real world back in America, I’ve done a lot of introspective thinking about what exactly my job has been here. What’s my one liner?

The implementation gap. That’s it. This term derives from City Year (of course), but I really relate it to my Peace Corps service as well. Addressing the implementation gap refers to giving needy schools extra support – these schools are not designed or equipped for the demands that face them often in high poverty areas.

Inferred from my two years in South Africa, I believe that the school system is not designed properly for rural educators and students. There are a few ways that can alleviate this, and most importantly from the Peace Corps side: extra support.

Although rural schools are small, the challenges educators face are far more time consuming than they would in a more developed area 40 kms down the road. This particularly has to do with the demanding curriculum that switches to all English in grade four, which the kids struggle to complete. Completing the curriculum on-time rarely happens, and there is little – if any – time to stay on one topic the learners are struggling with. My colleagues make kids come to school during holidays or weekends to catch up on the curriculum or go over things they don’t understand.

My educators also act as parental figures for a lot of these kids who are orphans or are being raised by gogo (grandma). They know the background story of the kids and make sure they are being cared for. I have seen the result of their care – in particular, one grade 8 girl who has a challenging home life, but was also raised at school. She is top of her class and the most respectful and caring young girl I have met here.

There are 15 educators on my staff that teach full-time. Their periods off are spent grading papers. Outside of that, they have little time to attend to individual students or any project that does not relate to their primary teaching job. Stay after school you think? That generally isn’t possible either. Some learners walk up to an hour to get to school, and educators travel up to an hour.

All of my colleagues work really hard, and care about their jobs and these kids, but there’s only so much they can do. That’s where the Peace Corps comes in!

As you know, the Masotsheni Primary School library has been a trial and error process for about two years. I came here, saw there was ample space for a library, but realized that my staff just didn’t know how to approach getting a large donation of books.

Simply, that I am computer literate, have an understanding of how to work with nonprofits and administratively organize such projects through email/Internet/technology, and have all the time in the world to focus on a large project was that extra support this little rural school needed.

My principal told an adorable story at our library opening ceremony about her first attempt at a library. When she first was accepted to become a David Rattray Foundation school, Ben came to check out our school and see the library. He told her the library was not a library, but a storeroom, and he would not give the school books until the room looked better. My ma’am then set out to organize the books as a library in the best way she could over the weekends. Unfortunately, she never had enough time to set up a system other than putting books on the fiction and non-fiction shelves. I’m not quite sure what happened after that, except I arrived to site a few months later and saw a perfect opportunity for a project.

Since the library has been done, my staff and learners have done everything they could to fulfil their part of the bargain. The library is functioning, being treated with respect, and the kids are eager to use it (and sit on the new carpet!) My principal oversees the library as much as she can, brings classes in, checks up on the classes when I’m with them to hammer down the law, and does orientation for them in Zulu and English just in case they don’t follow me.

I have two grade 7 library leaders, Nokulunga and Snenjabulo, who look over the checkout book every day and ensure the books are returned, reshelve them, and help younger learners checkout and find books. They do this ALL without me EVER telling them to do it – I simply gave them an orientation of how to do things; they are both incredible learners and I’m really enjoying closing my service with the pleasure of watching these kids take such pride in their school.

My Peace Corps service ended up being how I had pictured it – aiding people to accomplish a goal they already wanted and were trying to reach before I arrived. I alone cannot change the world, but I can help others who want change. I was just one helping hand that brought the missing pieces to the puzzle. Our school now has one more resource for continued extra support in English that over the years will hopefully help alleviate the language and literacy barriers rural children face. Now that the time consuming part of the project is over, from here on out it’s up to my school to keep it going.

I’m confident that I’m leaving South Africa knowing that this library will be ran correctly for years to come, because everyone involved wanted this project to happen just as much as I did. And there’s that. What did I do in the Peace Corps? I helped close the implementation gap.

♥Yours in service,

See you July 19th, America!

I have been approved to close my service and leave South Africa on July 19th — 30 days before graduate school orientation. The process of leaving makes me extremely sad, and already teary-eyed, but I can’t stay here forever. My projects are done, and it’s about time to go home — it’s just bittersweet. I will leave knowing a new Volunteer will be with my family and school next September, which I’m thrilled about.

But, I don’t want to talk too much about the sad stuff yet, so I can talk about the things I am looking forward to! I’ll be coming to my dad’s house in Houston, then flying to San Francisco to visit my hometown and best friends, and then to New York to search for an apartment. (I’m really trying to make it out to Los Angeles as well, but had to reassess my plans because I’ll really be scraping funds on this whole moving to one of America’s most expensive cities after I’ve been living on a stipend for three years thing.) I’ll be living with my friend Rakeesha – a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from my cohort – who is also attending NYU, but for her master’s in journalism!

Although life for me here is normal now, adventure awaits! I’ll be leaving here with nothing but happy memories as those trump any bad ones, and that’s exactly how I had hoped I’d leave.

See you soon friends!!!

See you soon friends!!!

Yours in service,
Soon to be Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Liz

Education is the most powerful weapon; part two

I’ve been MIA on my blog lately because I’ve been busy finishing projects and spending time with people before this journey is up. Anyways, here’s a late — but better than never — video of Sebetsang reciting one of his poems at a library opening ceremony at my school. I wrote the quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela) for him once, and from there his ideas have spiraled into an essay and a poem. Take a look and see just how bright this grade 8 boy is! I’ve recently learned his name means “hard worker” in Sotho. He’s come a long way, and I can’t fathom how well he’ll be doing in five years.


Thank you, Umkhulu Warden!

After a short weekend away, I got a pleasant surprise at school this morning. The ceiling on my school’s library was completed quickly on Saturday!  My grandpa (umkhulu) Warden donated to make this construction possible; my library now looks like a real room without wood boards spanned across the ceiling. Before this renovation,  we just had boards that kept the roof upright, but nothing adequate over our heads. Grade seven was in awe – a few favourite quotes to come from them, “Miss! Our school is perfect!” and “I feel like I’m just dreaming!”

Thank you for your generous donation and helping leave a Warden legacy here in South Africa, Grandpa Warden! The kids of my village will benefit for years to come and treat their library as a home away from home.


Presentation to the teachers


So purrrrty!



I’ve been working nonstop in the library until 5pm everyday in order to prepare for our official opening ceremony this Thursday with representatives from the Dept. Of Education,  Peace Corps and David Rattray Foundation to thank the Sir Emeka Offor Foundation for donating a second container of Books for Africa books to South African schools,  and Books for Africa for working with Peace Corps South Africa for the past two years to make these libraries a reality.

Almost. Done. But, as always,  more to come. Two more days!

Yours in service,

Month 20: umdeni wami (my family)

Family. Umdeni. Depending on one’s culture and values,  that word can have a lot of different meanings. For Zulus, family spans from the immediate family to the most distant relatives. (For example,  when I ask my sister how someone is related to our family,  she sometimes shrugs and laughs with an, “I don’t know.”) For me, family has been strictly immediate  – ya know,  the people who helped raise you or that you have made memories with.

I was literally dropped off at my family’s home way back when. They didn’t know anything about me except my age, gender and country of origin. Since then, I’ve become a real part of this family, and my definition of family has changed.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and we ventured up the hill to gogo’s house. All of my mom’s siblings were visiting (my aunts and uncles) and all their children (my cousins). Specifically,  one cousin was visiting who went to the primary school I work at, but since then moved to another area with her uncle for secondary school.  I’ve been here long enough to see her transition from a little girl to a full blown teenager, which alone makes me feel like I’m a member of this family.

Even more so, my mom likes to call me and my sister “black and white twins” — makes me laugh every time. My sister and I are both 25-year-old (soon to be on my part) only children. The immediate family on my property is pretty small,  so they wanted to expand their family, just like I did!

When I say “mom”, I’m 99 percent sure talking about my South African mom. Same goes for grandma, uncle, aunt, sister,  brother,  cousin.  That’s not to say I’ve forgotten about my American family,  but I don’t differentiate the two. Everyone here and everyone there is a part of my family.

Last month,  my American dad and step mom had the pleasure of visiting my family and village. We had dinner and cake for my sister’s birthday,  and watched the video from my mom’s wedding. Both of my families got to meet, spend time together through a bond I share with both of them.

Ironically, visiting gogo’s house on Easter reminded me so much of visiting my own grandma’s house when I was younger. I can’t understand most things people say at family gatherings unless my sister translates,  so I kind of just sit there, twiddle my thumbs and laugh when people are acting things out because then I get some sense of “what’s going on”. As a kid,  I did relatively the same thing at my grandma’s house, but because I was the only kid and no one was close to my age. This Easter,  I couldn’t help but laugh to myself because as different as they are, my family experiences still share some similarities. Just one more reason why I merge the two!

My family is hosting the next Volunteer that will replace me in September. It’s bittersweet to know I will be replaced because another American will be welcomed into this family; he or she will get to have the amazing experience I had. I just hope they always remember me, because I will never forget them! I will always consider them part of my family,  and am happy my dad and step mom were able to meet them.

Much love to the Mathebulas! I cannot begin to thank them for all they have done for me, especially giving me an incredible family from one continent to another. I now understand that family doesn’t have to be the people who have always been in your life; family is the people who treat you like family – that’s what will always count.

Yours in service,


Third time’s the charm!

Low and behold, our library is back into renovation/complete mess/looks like Liz’s room mode — but with good reason!

Ben of the David Rattray Foundation recently met with my principal and I to discuss renovating our library, as a thank you for the Books for Africa project. We agreed that DRF would supply new shelving and furniture.  My principal was to add burglar bars to the windows and compromise with the secondary school — to receive five boxes of secondary books from our first project, the grade 12 boys would come and take down this awful metal shelving for us. I was in charge of organising my host mom to make curtains for the windows.

All did and done in about two months!


We’re in the process of re-labelling all the fiction books (more to come on why we are doing that part of the renovation process again…) Yes, you heard right.  More. Labeling. I’ve got a mean team of staff members and learners who have been helping and making me laugh during the process,  so it ain’t so bad after all! Teamwork makes dreamwork and it goes so much faster with more hands.

Look at the awesome furniture below!  I am so ecstatic I had to post pictures,  and so are the grade 7s who used every positive descriptive adjective they could to describe these wooden beauties. Now that we have the room for the books, we can’t wait to finally,  finally,  finally make this the best it can be.

Three has always been my lucky number. Third time we’ve mixed things up in here. Third time’s the charm,  right?

Thank you DRF! Stay tuned for more presentable and not things-all-the-place-ultimate-chaos pictures.




Yours in service,


Life After Peace Corps Plan (LAPC)

Truth be told, my #1 plan is to hold a sloth.

I started this blog in May 2011, a few weeks after my undergraduate graduation.  I coined the name “Liz in Service” because I thought it sounded cool,  but little did I know how much meaning it would have for the next few years and the rest of my life.  I had drawn out a plan that went from AmeriCorps to Peace Corps,  but didn’t know what would happen after my three year service journey.  Maybe I’d love teaching?  Crawl back to journalism?

None of those ended up happening. However,  Peace Corps, as I wrote in my statement of purpose,  made me well-aware of what I needed to do afterwards: “Although my Peace Corps experience is invaluable and is teaching me more about our humanity and myself than I ever imagined,  a stirring sense of patriotism shook me this past year.  I feel the urgency to return to fighting social issues in urban America.”

It’s hard to explain this revelation — because I know there’s much more development work to do around the world. But working in the South African school system made me so grateful for American education,  regardless of its issues. To say it lightly,  I’m looking forward to experience a public school system that is (for the most part) trying to make reasonable decisions and policies.

Although education is an important social issue to me, I’m not a person who should be teaching — a newfound Peace Corps discovery.  Just because I’m passionate and have a bachelor’s degree in no way means I’ll be a good teacher. Teaching is an art and takes a special kind of person. I’m not that person. My passion leads to quite the contrary — to youth development and “behind the scenes” in education.

I decided to apply for Master of Public Administration/nonprofit management programs with a future goal of creating a nonprofit that specialises in journalism and leadership enrichment in urban areas. USC already does this, and gave me the opportunity to mentor in South Los Angeles. I’d like to make this idea bloom into something more widespread.

Through journalism,  urban youth would learn about local governance,  be inclined to write more,  gain the  confidence to speak up and ask questions,  celebrate the overshadowed good and stand against injustice,  which would build social capital.

I’ll always believe in the power of journalism. I know any kids who were able to report on his/her community would realise where they fit into the grand scheme of things.  I hope this knowledge would eventually inspire them to make change in their communities.

I had the choice of going back to USC or heading to New York City. I thought a lot about going back to doing youth development in Watts, and having a pretty solid understanding of the city, culture and politics. So simple!  But, it’s time to expand my horizons outside of the California bubble.

I accepted my offer at the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service today, which was my top choice.  The program aligns with exactly what I want. Not to mention,  I’ve talked to several RPCVs and all had good things to say. (The RPCV network is pretty solid there and I already feel welcomed!)

I’ll be moving to NYC to start part three of the service journey. I’ll always be Liz in Service and will keep writing because I’ll still be chugging along in the public service world, but this time on the administrative side. Although I’m a delusional and idealistic mid-20-year-old,  at least I acknowledge that and know I need to be open-minded and of course improvise.

I’m going to grad school part-time,  so I’ll be looking for jobs in the education nonprofit field. My dream job, of course,  would be at City Year New York (especially because I now have a red bomber).

Give me a few years to come back and read this post and see how the LAPC plan is — if at all — is unfolding.

I’ll be saying goodbye to stipend living soon, but then will greet thousands of dollars of debt.  I’m digging myself into a hole that will be hard to climb out of,  but it’s all worth it to me because it’s for a purpose I strongly believe in.

See you soon, NYC! LA, I’ll always love you for your diversity, food,  sunny days,  culture,  courage, complexity and way of life. Until we meet again.

Yours in debt and delusion,

Month 19: finding my niche

I laugh a lot.  Probably every hour or so — no doubt there have been times I’ve been in the back of a classroom uncontrollably laughing to myself and crying. That’s not because a kid did something funny. It’s because some text message I got from a PCV that range from a plethora of topics — stories from school, home, major Peace Corps fails,  or random thoughts that have absolutely nothing to do with South Africa.

An average day after school consist of me coming home,  curling up under my mosquito net, watching bugs ruthlessly die on the net, and shooting out texts to my peoples. Not only does it keep me sane and grounded,  but it also adds some spice to my ever-so-routine life.

Yes, we can make friends with our South African colleagues and families.  But, at least my case,  it hasn’t been easy to find someone who finds humour in the same things and someone I don’t have to censor myself around.  My PCV friends,  on the contrary,  can take it all. A text-by-text frenzy blowing off steam when I’m not in the best mood, a live update on shooing the hens and chicks out of my house, or a text-by-text update on how the lawnmower (I mean weed whacker that takes 3x longer to cut the grass) is encroaching upon my hut. Trivial things, really,  but you can always find a way to laugh at them.

It took a good while for me to find my niche in American culture.  I never felt like I fit in in college outside of the journalism world, and God forbid those treacherous middle school days!  Through my two and a half (omg!) years of service,  I have found people that are passionate about the same things as me, have similar senses of humour, share dreams and aspirations and all that jazz. I have finally found my niche,  and I’m pretty happy about it!

The Battlefields cluster — my closest Volunteers geographically — recently said bye to our mama hen, Paige, who was in the cohort before us (SA 25). Although she is not going back to the States and rather extending for a year in Pretoria with the CDC, her farewell party made me think about the relationships I have with her and other PCVs. (And not to mention,  if it weren’t for mama hen, the little chicks of SA 26 would have never found their way in the beginning.)
Battlefields last group trip to our beloved shopping town Nquthu


Paige’a farewell function at her organisations;  all her colleagues singing and prancing around the yard

Peace Corps and City Year combined really helped me understand who I am as a person and what I need to make me happy, which is generally being around likeminded people and doing something that will help improve our world. I know that I will never feel like “I don’t belong” anywhere ever again because I know where I stand.  When I return to America at the end of July/early August, I’ll be entering a graduate school programme (public administration), which will be seeping with AmeriCorps alums and RPCVs.

Extra gratitude this month for all who make my service just that much more worth it.  Thank you for the comic relief, the support,  and keeping me updated about things like the whereabouts of the chickens on your lawn.  I love ya’ll!

Yours in service,
♥ Liz