Seriously? A Blind Peace Corps Volunteer?

“I can see enough to get into trouble, but not quite enough to get out.”

Serena stands before Peace Corps staff, volunteers,  host families, and counterparts at the Kyrgyz National Ballet Theatre to deliver a speech.  A large Kyrgyz flag, a field of red with a decorative yellow sunburst adorns the wall behind her.

I had the honor of delivering a speech in Kyrgyz at the swearing in ceremony of the K-22 group of Peace Corps Volunteers. (June 19th, 2014)

It’s really the best way I’ve found so far to answer that oft-asked, awkward question, “How much can you see?” Looking back, it is this worldview that is centered on or otherwise grateful for what remaining sight I have, that has truly been my greatest disability in life. It was when I learned to identify as a blind person and get the alternative skills training appropriate to that understanding of myself that the doors to the success that was always just out of my reach finally started to open. I have grown to be very comfortable and confident in my identity as a blind person and significantly less concerned with what I can see and more with having the skills to access what I can’t see.

As a recent small-town high school graduate, “passing for sighted” (as I like to call it), I didn’t have many role models or much direction, but I quickly learned two things about myself: I wanted to see the world and I wanted to do good things for people. Of course, I had little idea of what that would look like or how I was going to do it, so I started experimenting with things that I thought might make it work–working a crappy summer job in Germany, accepting the invitation when a cute Indonesian boy invited me to fly home with him and stay with his family, pointing my academics toward the international arena and upping the ante by going for a graduate degree, and doing lots of volunteering with non-profits and travelling along the way. In fact, I can say that I spent all of my twenties going to school and travelling. Oh, and a lot of music and partying–I worked at a radio station for a while and was the only of many of my circles going to college.

As I entered my thirties, I finished up my graduate degree at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. My move to Monterey marked a bit of a dark time in my life, having experienced since then some of the greatest challenges life has thrown at me so far. To say the last decade or so has been difficult would be a gross understatement, but I have done and continue to do the hard work necessary to keep coming back harder and stronger. My move to the Bay Area at the beginning of 2010 marks a particular turning point in the pendulum swing. I’ve finally established myself as the working professional I have aimed to be, doing what I’ve always wanted to do: make a positive change in the human condition. I’ve earned many of the badges of responsible adulthood–paying down debt, saving and investing for my future, and having a little left over to indulge myself now and then. While these may be obvious and normal parts of most people’s lives, they represent for me liberation from the cyclical poverty of government programs and my contribution to raising the expectation that working for a living, paying taxes, accepting the responsibilities of adulthood, and enjoying the pleasures of improved livelihood is normal, even for blind people. The significant gap lies in the lack of expectations, training, and resources that put many blind people in this position.

And now that brings you here to my blog. my application to the Peace Corps marks an extremely pivotal moment in my evolution and a shift back towards the arena of international development that I thought I was headed into when I was sidetracked (not derailed, mind you) by my journey into the blindness field.

being the first in my family to do a lot of things, like complete college through graduate school and engage in some serious international travel were weighty enough tasks in and of themselves. Add the journey I have taken in my evolution as a blind person and you have some interesting adventures. I’ve long been fond of the idea of writing about my life’s experiences and this blog, motivated by my decision in September 2011 to apply to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, represents my first formalized stab at doing so. I welcome your subscriptions to this blog to share in what is shaping up to be a wild ride!

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9 thoughts on “Seriously? A Blind Peace Corps Volunteer?

  1. I really enjoyed reading this and have a lot of respect for you. I would love to continue to follow your blog so that I might be able to follow your travels as you enter the Peace Corp.

  2. It was wonderful have so much time with you while you were in town! We’re going to miss planning our three-day weekends around your visits. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful opportunity to educate people about blindness. I admire you so much for doing what you want to do with your life! I would love to follow your blog. Best of luck with your travels.

  4. Wow…8 hours! I am so excited for you 🙂 As you wrote in my yearbook many years ago: “Bear hugs and warm fuzzies!” Safe travels my friend.

  5. Serena you rock! I’m so glad we met before you left on your adventure. Robyn always speaks so highly of you and I know she’ll miss you, but is so excited for you too! Looking forward in following your journey and living vicariously through your travels.

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