PCV Spotlight: Char on What Peace Corps Means to Me

This is a guest post by Char in our PCV Spotlight Series:

Who are you?

I’m Charleen Johnson Stoever, a queer, Mexican-American woman from Moses Lake, Washington. I went to college in Boston and feel as if that’s one of my many homes. I live in the department of Matagalpa, and I’m a TEFL Teacher Trainer and Secondary Teacher with TEFL 64. I have experience in promoting Peace Corps Nicaragua as a safe space for LGBTQ volunteers. I’ve also helped train volunteers with best practices in gender equitable teaching and classroom management.

Share a story or something that sums up what PC means to you. Why is this memory, thing, person, or idea so important?

I’d like to talk about my new friend, Rosa.  Every month, I participate in the local Women’s Collective’s “Spontaneous Theater” show, during which audience members share a story and a group of women act out the story, whether it be an emotional victory or personal struggle. I introduced myself to the audience as an English teacher, and I shared my story about how sometimes I feel useful in Nicaragua, such as when I led an LGBTQ safe-space training for Peace Corps Nicaragua Staff. At other times, such as when class is cancelled or when plans for a project fall through, I question why I’m here and whether I’m doing enough during my service. The actresses interpreted my story and we all laughed along at the comic relief they provided.

After the show, Rosa approached me with her son to thank me for sharing. My story. She felt a connection to what I was feeling that night, and she asked me if I could teach her English. We exchanged numbers, and I said I’d get in touch with her. I thought she would just be like most people here who express initial interest about learning English, but they soon lose motivation once they realize how much work it is to learn a language.

About a week later, I used the address she gave me to find her house, and was lost. I asked around, and it took me about 45 minutes to get to her house. I was so frustrated because I had climbed a huge hill, and it was blisteringly hot. I was starting to regret making it all the way out there, and I thought that Rosa would quickly be intimidated by our first English lesson. I finally met her outside of her house. It turned out that I had walked several blocks too far. As soon as I entered her bright blue house, my mood switched. We made small talk as new friends do, and got right to the lesson.

We spent an hour practicing greetings in English, and Rosa never gave up. I was impressed with how easily she accepted feedback, and she took notes relentlessly as her daughters watched us practice how to pronounce the “R” in “See you Later” over and over again. It’s something we are still working on. It’s a challenge, but it makes us laugh. Yesterday I went to teach Rosa again, and she had re-written her entire page of notes in a neater format. I was so happy she took the time to do this, because so many people I’ve taught in the past make excuses for not having done their homework. She makes up no excuses, and she just does what she needs to do, because she honestly wants to learn English.

Right before I left to teach at my high school, she stopped me and said “I’m not going to let you leave without eating!”, and quickly whipped up a plate of rice, beans, tomatoes, and fried sweet tamale with pink chicha juice. As I ate this delicious lunch, she told me about how as a single mother, she’s been through a lot to keep her 4 kids from going hungry. “My children are my treasures, and I’d do anything for them”. She said that at one point, she ended up saving enough to make 50 nacatamales and sold them all to feed her children. Nacatamales are a labor of love, as they take all day to prepare and make. You had to grind the corn to make masa, then tightly wrap the masa, meat, and vegetables into a banana leaf, then steam it for hours. As she told me this story, her eyes watered because I could tell that the memory of wanting to make ends meet for her children was still so fresh in her mind.

Now, Rosa is doing better as she works selling makeup. I’ve been blown away by the ways in which she has made ends meet, yet has such a bright smile despite everything that has happened in her life. I can tell that she has never given up hope. Before I left, I thanked her for being such a great student, and she said that I was a gift from God and that she was so grateful that I came into her life. I hugged her. Even though we’ve only seen each other three times, I know that she will always be someone I want to stay in touch with. I can just feel the love she has for her children, for English, and for any new opportunities that come her way. I’m so grateful that she came into my life, too.

You can follow Char’s adventures at her blog: The Banana Leaf Chronicles


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