When I arrived in Laborie a week or so ago, I reveled in my great good fortune at being assigned here. The people are very friendly, the beach and sea are spectacular, and the village is quaint. I posted pictures here and on Facebook and I made clear that it felt like the universe had smiled on me. Many of my friends commented that they had never seen me so happy. Others responded by suggesting I was living it up in paradise. Alas, I'm afraid I have given you all an inaccurate picture of life in Laborie, specifically, and St. Lucia, generally.
In summary, this isn't Scarsdale. The PC does not assign volunteers to places like Scarsdale. So how does the PC choose assignments and locations? In the beginning, which in this case was March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced the Peace Corps Act. The act declared the program's purpose as follows:
To promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.
The PC sends volunteers to places where there is a clear need. That need is typically created by chronic and severe poverty, which is closely tied to rates of illiteracy. Research has found that American 1st graders from low-income households have 50% smaller vocabularies. And 60% of these households were found to have no children's books. Children from low-income families often come to school hungry, from unsafe environments, with parents who either don't care about their children's education or are simply unable to help in any way.
In the one week of model school we taught, in various visits to schools, and from countless training sessions we know the situation to be even more dire here than it is in the U.S. It should come as no surprise, though, given that more than one-quarter of the population in St. Lucia lives below the poverty line and the unemployment rate stands near 20%. This is my Laborie. This is the village I fell in love with. Perhaps more because of, rather than despite, the challenges Laborians face.
The few pictures below will give you all a fuller sense of the village.