(Morgan Wright, daughter of Steve and Donna Wright of Randall, has begun her duties as a volunteer leader in the Peace Corps and has agreed to correspond with the Story City Herald on a regular basis. She will submit stories and information about her life in Ecuador, South America, and her regular routines and views of the South American culture, as well as some of the experiences she encounters along the way. In this first article, Morgan writes about the Peace Corps and her first experiences of living in a community in Ecuador as a volunteer for two years prior to becoming a Peace Corps leader.)

—by Morgan Wright

I knew I wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer since high school when I first found out about the Peace Corps. I have always had an interest in helping people and learning about other cultures and ways of life. So naturally it appealed to me to join the Peace Corps.

I started the application process for joining the Peace Corps during my junior year of college. It is a rigorous process of applications, interviews, and medical exams. After I was accepted they told me I would be a volunteer in the Sustainable Agriculture program in the field of applied agricultural sciences in Ecuador, South America. So on that blistering cold February morning of 2011 I said good-bye to my family and loved ones and traded in my comfortable Iowa life for the unknowns and adventures of tropical Ecuador.

Upon arrival you get your first sense of culture shock. The sights, sounds, smells, people and language are like nothing you have ever seen before. I was very quiet and just took it all in, trying to figure out what was going on and where I really was. When you first get to your host country you start off with training. Training is a three month process where new trainees learn the local language, medical information, safety and security and the technical skills necessary for your program. Trainees also get to know their fellow trainees and the Peace Corps staff. Once one has successfully completed training you officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer and get sent off to your site. It can be a daunting and scary process to leave the company of the other Americans and go off to a site where no one speaks English, and you barely speak Spanish, but I looked at it as an adventure and the reason why I came down here in the first place.

My site was a very small, rural setting in the coastal region of Ecuador. It was like nothing I had seen before. The houses are very modest, made mostly of wood or bamboo, with some made out of concrete. All with tin roofs and bars covering the open windows. There were none of the comforts of home, such as running water, constant electricity, restaurants, paved roads, stores, air-conditioning, or even another blonde person. But what there was, were friendly people excited to meet me and learn why I was there. My site wasn’t such a rural area that they had never seen a white person before, but they had never really talked to one, let alone lived with one in their community. I lived with a host family for the first eight months of my service. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had in the Peace Corps. It is truly the best way to integrate into a community and learn about other people and their ways of live. My host family taught me the language, how to cook, wash my clothes on a rock, play soccer, meet other people in the village, and how to keep a clean house like a good Ecuadorian woman; in short, they taught me everything I needed to know.

After I had lived in the community for a while I started making friends. I gained trust with everyone through playing soccer and being invited to people’s homes for coffee or dinner, and I soon started my work as an agriculture volunteer. First I started off working in the local elementary school teaching gardening and English classes. Working with the children is one of the best ways to integrate into the community. They are so energetic and willing to work with you and they love to try new things. From there I started working more with the farmers helping them to increase their cacao production by making organic fertilizers. We also worked together to make family gardens and I taught nutrition classes to help the community learn about food security. I lived in my community for two years as a volunteer and I thought I would be teaching them so much that it would change their ways of life. But as it turned out, they taught me so much more than I could have ever taught them, and they were the ones who changed my life. I am forever grateful to my people in the small coastal town of San Lorenzo, Los Rios and will forever carry them in my heart.

Next: The life of a PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader)

(The Peace Corps is an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. It was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals: 1.) Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2.) Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; 3.) Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.)