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Reprinted from PN July 2003

Aggravation and frustrations, give and take, bewilderment and enlightenment are all part of living and serving in another culture. Interested in volunteering abroad? At the end of this article, you?ll find our WEB-EXCLUSIVE list of helpful resources and Web sites!

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Like all trainees, Pamela Houston (center) stayed with a Kiribati host family.

Guests filled the thatched-roof open-air maneaba to celebrate the second annual National Disability Awareness Feast. I sat cross-legged on the ground with my companions and budding activists from Te Toa Matoa, the Kiribati Association of Youth and Adults with Disabilities. Kiribati tradition dictates that events such as this must include plenty of traditional dance, lots of intensive, heartfelt singing, long flowing speeches presented by hosts and guests alike, and, of course, the feast.

So begins Pamela Houstons account of her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer with Te Toa Matoa. Houston, who has cerebral palsy, spent two years in the central Pacific Ocean republic of Kiribati (formerly called the Gilbert Islands), located on the equator, between the Marshall Islands and Western Samoa.

Houston discusses what motivates peopleregardless of physical abilityto volunteer abroad, addresses some of the most common questions and concerns expressed by volunteers with a disability, and asserts that serving and living in a community elsewhere in the world provides ample opportunity to see yourself and your own culture in a new light. Wrestling with what you find, she says, brings growth and maturity.

 

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