Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm Official

I have been sworn in and am no longer a Peace Corps Trainee. I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Whoo hoo!

We had a very beautiful ceremony (although long and hot as every function in this country is), where we took the Peace Corps oath to uphold and defend the U.S. constitution and were accepted by the Vanuatu government. All of our host families from the villages came and it was great to see them smiling and cheering for us in the audience. They are all so proud :) Afterward we went to a bar and had a great little post-party. Nancy, Danielle and I had organized some "Most Likely To. . ." that the group voted on and we had some pretty funny ones including: Most Likely to Become Chief, Most Likely to Burn Down a Kastom House, Most Likely to Chase Off a Creeper, Most Likely to Get Bitten by a Mosquito, and some more. It was a great night of laughing, drinking beer, and dancing. Quite an "American" night :)

I have a new address and have updated it on the side of my blog, but here it is again:

MaryCatherine Bradley
Peace Corps Volunteer
P.O. Box 60
Quatamele Women's Group
North Ambae Island
Republic of Vanuatu

If anything is in transit and ends up going to the Peace Corps office, they will forward it on to me, so no worries there.

I am out to my island on Monday morning and won't be back into Vila until Phase II training which will be in mid-February, so this is probably my last post for a while! Letters will definitely be the best way to get ahold of me.

Wish me luck as I venture off into the jungle of North Ambae!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Job Description

Here are some details about what I will be doing in North Ambae for the next two years. If nerdy things like accounting and financial management bore you then this might not be the post for you. Scroll down to find more interesting stories :)

My official title is Business and Community Development Advisor, and I am assigned to the North Ambae Women's Group (NAWG). The women in Quatamwele and surrounding villages have come together to sell woven mats, baskets, folders, and other beautiful products with the help of a former volunteer. But the volunteer who originally helped the women was not a business volunteer, so now they want someone to come and help them straighten out the business aspect of their organizion. I will be advising them on basic book-keeping, financial management, marketing techniques, and providing support for new product development. I'm really lucky to be walking into a group that is so well organized and motivated and the former volunteer did a great job of setting up the program. I'm really excited because it seems like the current needs of NAWG pretty much fit my strenghts and I think this could be a really productive assignment.

With a couple exceptions, business volunteers this year have either been sent to work with branches of National Bank of Vanuatu or with the provincial government, so their assignments are a little more structured than mine, but I really believe in this project and I feel really blessed to be able to go with it. Here is a small excerpt from my job description from the Peace Corps:

"Globally women contribute greatly to poverty reduction, economic growth and private sector development. Peace Corps believes empowering women leads to increased social well-being. Women in Vanuatu are crucial contributors to society and are perceived to hold the family and communities together."

Pretty exciting stuff! I will be getting to work with the mamas one on one to enhance their personal finance capabilities and also with the group as a whole. I have met some of the women in the group and they are really wonderful people. I'm looking forward to learning more about local products and also about women's special role in Vanuatu society. Not to mention all the beautiful island dresses I'm sure I'll be wearing at my site :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Drumroll please. . .

Our site announcements have been made, and I am going to. . . Quatamwele, Ambae! Now I realize for most of you that means absolutely nothing, so this post is to provide some information about my future home.

I am one of the few lucky volunteers who actually got to visit their site when we went on our Host Volunteer Visit (my program manager told me she had to send me there to make sure I "could hack it") so I have actually seen my new house, met my new "family", and had a tour of my new village. I had suspected for a while that I would end up going there, but no one would give me any confirmation, so I was excited to learn for sure where I will be spending the next two years. Quatamwele is a tiny village of about 80 people in a very remote area of North Ambae. To get there you take a flight from Vila to Logana, Ambae, then take a truck to the port in Lolowai, then take about a 2 hour boat ride to Walurigi, then hike straight uphill for about an hour to get to Quatamwele. There are no trucks on my side of the island (and no vehicle could make it up the hill anyway) and I will be working with a lot of other villages in my area, so my site involves a lot of hiking. It is an absolutely beautiful village, deep in the jungle and nesled right into the hillside fairly close to an active volcano. I have been used to houses in Efate that are made out of scrap metal or concrete blocks, but in Quatamwele the houses are almost exclusively made out of local materials. My house has bamboo walls, a roof of woven leaves, and a dirt floor. I also have a "kastom kitchen" which is a separate little house to make the cooking fire in, a "small house" which is a hole in the ground that serves as a toilet, and a "swim house" where I will be taking my bucket showers. The community uses rain water for drinking and water from springs for bathing and washing. There are no generators in the village, so no electricity is to be had. It is very, very isolated. There is one "store" at the bottom of the hill that sells some basics, but anything you want to bring to your house you have to lug it up the giant hill. I'm not sure exactly how I will get all my things up there but my current plan is to enlist the help of some village kids.

The people of my village are incredible. They are welcoming, motivated, and so excited to be getting a new volunteer. There is a very strong chief who has great control of the village and things definitely get done there. They are organized and energetic about improving the village and their enthusiasm is so exciting to me. When I went to visit they had a welcome ceremony for me and presented me with a gift of a necklace carved out of a natangurra seed in the shape of a pig's tusk. When I came back from my visit all the Ni-Vanuatu trainers were amazed at the gift and told me it was a very big deal as pigs are huge in the culture here and the tusks are a sign of power and wealth. I felt an amazing connection with the people and I left my visit with a strong feeling that this site I where I am supposed to go.

There is a great group of volunteers going to Ambae and one of my good friends here, Nancy, will be my closest neighbor (about a 1 and 1/2 hour walk over some pretty rough terain). Part of me is a little nervous to be going to such a remote placement, but mainly I'm excited and energized for the challenge. This will be so far from anything I have ever experienced and it's amazing to be given a chance like this. I probably won't be very easy to contact but I'll do my best to provide updates along the way!