This is a guest post by Matt in our PCV Spotlight Series:
It won’t stop raining and my recently-washed bedsheets won’t dry! In the time between when I started writing this guest blog post for Emily and Andrew and now, the rainy season arrived with a splash. The roads are rivers, my clothes are all dirty and lightning snakes across the sky every night like fingers reaching up in a fruitless search for something above. The rain has given rise to a swarm of flying ants exiting their lairs and in turn their ephemeral existence has given rise to an invasion of frogs who vigilantly patrol the ground as the easy meals inevitably fall. Living in a tropical country is certainly entertaining. Sometimes though, as I live in a major Nicaraguan city of 150,000ish people, 4 blocks from a movie theater/mall, I wonder how different my life is than that of my friends embarking on their professional careers in the U.S. But other times, as I huddle together under an overhang in a drenching thunderstorm with the rest of my fellow travelers who got off the bus with me and I get repeatedly turned down by taxis who tell me that they aren’t going to my part of the city anymore today because the heavy rain means “there isn’t passage”, I realize that quite simply it’s different because everything is an adventure.
My name is Matt Martin and I am far from where I grew up in Seattle, Washington. I am also far from where I went to school at Middlebury College in Vermont. However, both those places are coincidentally known for sending people to do stuff like I’m doing right now in Estelí, Nicaragua as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was assigned to work in the small business development sector here, which means I spend my day trying to encourage entrepreneurship usually among high school students. The primary project of the SB sector is teaching a year-long curriculum in the last year of high school that walks students through the process of writing a business plan. In fact, a major achievement of the small business sector here in Nicaragua was working with the Ministry of Education to turn what had been a voluntary after school group project into an integrated part of the required high school curriculum.
During the first month or two of the school year, the students form groups and think of creative ideas for their businesses. There is a huge focus on creativity and innovation because right now in Nicaragua you can find hundreds of the same types of stores opened up all around major cities. There is a tendency to mirror your neighbor and what we want to encourage in the class is thinking in a different way and providing something that doesn’t already exist in order to assure success. Anyway, they go through the whole year learning the theory behind different components of a business plan and then applying them to their own fledgling businesses. At the end of the year, they compete at a local, regional and national level with their business plans and business ideas. Entrepreneurship is incredibly important because Nicaragua has a really young population. Around 70% of the population is under 30 and while unemployment isn’t that high, the rate of ‘under-employment’ reaches almost 50%, which means that a lot of college graduates are working in jobs that do not reflect their degrees or provide nearly enough money. Having the knowledge, ability and creativity to start a business is a great way to address that issue and also improve the economy.
So what does Peace Corps mean to me? Not exactly what I thought it would. That doesn’t mean it is a bad thing at all. In fact, I am about halfway through and it has been an amazing and exciting experience so far. It’s not like you might think it is. I’m not living in a remote rural community. I have wifi almost whenever I want. I can go see movies in theaters and a froyo place just opened up here. I’m serious, froyo. However, Peace Corps has been a much more intense professional experience than I had imagined. I have worked with large groups of teachers, advised businesses, organized competitions for students in the whole department (read: state) and challenged myself to really become an authority here on my subject material. My background isn’t really in business. I majored in international studies with a focus in political science, but my interest in development has shaped everything I did. Peace Corps for me, is a chance to really get a look at what development means. I studied the theory and debated the merits of NGOs and foreign aid but being here is a really interesting look at a field that I want to work in for the rest of my life. I don’t know if I will be teaching or even working in small business development, but simply being in this environment and seeing how projects and organizations work in a developing country has been a tremendous opportunity for me.
Plus, having seven 24 hour long adventures every week is certainly an exciting way to live.
Matt mostly emails instead of blogging, so if you want to get in touch with him, feel free to do so in the comments below.