Growing up on a Native American reservation has profoundly impacted my life choices and career path. My community members and surroundings taught me about the worldview of my people, and the knowledge I acquired from community elders continues to influence how I interact with others. As an Indigenous person, I represent where I come from along with my community's core values, including love, faith, compassion, service, and dedication to community. These values are instilled in me. They are who I am. My personal goal is to be of service to my community and I have realized the acquisition of knowledge is one avenue to accomplish my goal.
After earning a master’s degree in business I joined the Peace Corps, an international development organization committed to supplying skilled volunteers to developing nations. As an economic development specialist working in the Republic of Panama, I advised two very different communities on how to identify and develop projects that would contribute to the growth of the area. One community had limited access to water, and its residents lived minimally; the other was close to a major city, and its residents had access to modern amenities. Witnessing the distribution of resources in these areas raised my awareness of global issues. As a volunteer I was aware that it wasn't what I wanted, but what the community wanted.
One of my major responsibilities during my Peace Corps service was to share my knowledge with my Panamanian community members. I promoted basic business concepts in my host community and I sought to transfer my skill set to others with the goal of sustainability. As a volunteer my role was not to impose upon others what I knew, but rather learn from the community about their worldview. Through my experiences living and working in Panama I learned the importance of another country's policies and the effects they have on education, healthcare, social programs, and individual lives.
My Peace Corps experience changed my life positively. As an indigenous person, I was able to share my culture and build personal relationships. While I faced various challenges throughout my two-year service in Panama, such as learning a new language and integrating into another community, I was able to navigate these challenges and overcome them successfully. The people of Panama gave me more than I gave them. When I look back on my Peace Corps service I am proud of the successful projects I completed, the positive changes I helped shape, and my personal development.
Peace Corps service gave me a new worldview and as a Native American it was beneficial for me to see a different part of the world. I have taken the life experiences and skills that I gained from my volunteer experience to inform my public service to my community at home. These experiences have made me a stronger, more effective leader and communicator and I am grateful for the life education I gained. My Peace Corps experience has given me the poise to walk in two worlds, the Native World and the Western World.
Shawn Abeita is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama.