Thursday, September 16, 2010

The cost of volunteering

Even though our departure date is growing steadily closer (I just got my ticket to staging in Philly - I leave on the 11th!) I still don't think the reality of being gone for 2 years has hit me.  Going back to MHC didn't help, especially since I was there at the beginning of the year so it didn't really feel as though I'd missed anything - it was just returning "home" after another summer in the place that still feels like home in my heart but not quite like it used to.  Still feeling a good mixture of excitement and nervousness - I like planning and packing and feeling like things are moving closer to departure but also sometimes feel like things are moving too quickly and I'd really like another few months to process and read up on the country and say goodbye to my life here.  Ok, now that I think more about it, I'm firmly in denial.  I've never been away from home for this long with no real way of getting back (a $2500 plane ticket is a little much for a spontaneous trip home) and so I'm not stressing over visiting all of my friends, etc. as much as I might be because it feels like I'll see them again in a few months like always.  This might be a bit of a problem. :p

A conversation with Robyn (and all of this shopping!) really made me think about the cost of being a volunteer.  While all of my travel and living costs for the next two years will be covered, in preparation for going I've spent an exorbitant amount of money, and I certainly wouldn't have had time to earn it all with my usual summer job (thank you parents, generous relatives, and outlet malls for making up for my utter lack of employment).  Just about all of my clothing excluding pajamas, jackets and underwear is new, and even on clearance an REI skirt costs $40 (I bought 2, having owned exactly 1 fancy skirt that was the appropriate length).  I also bought 2 pairs of travel pants (the lightweight kind that zip off into shorts), a ridiculous amount of plain cotton t-shirts (my mother kept buying more whenever she found some, so I must be up to 7 or 8 at this point - I doubt I'll take all of them), a pair of exercise capris for under my skirts, Chaco sandals (I didn't find out about the 50% volunteer discount until after I got them, but they were on sale and the discount would have only saved me about $15), and a new pair of jeans (a necessary expenditure - all of mine either didn't fit anymore or had started ripping in awkward places).  Clothing aside I also bought a sleeping pad and hiking backpack (the former on sale, the latter on deep clearance - yay!), and a handful of miscellaneous other things like a travel towel.  My biggest single expenditure was for a netbook and extra battery (thanks to my father for those - they should arrive tomorrow!), and I also got an extra battery for the camera I already own.  Oh, and a bike helmet. Whew!

All told, when I bought the recommended personal property insurance I insured about $2000 worth of stuff (including luggage, clothing, electronics, jewelry, bedding, etc), and I'd guess what I'm bringing is worth more than that since a lot of it was on sale and some things I already owned like a nice rain jacket.  If you spread the $2000 over 27 months you aren't actually buying that much (about $74/month). I usually spend about $60 a week when I'm on my own on gas and food, and could easily tack on another $18/week of incidental costs (going to coffee, going dancing, grabbing a drink after work, buying a piece of clothing) to get to an additional $74 per month.  It's practically a bargain in that light since I'd be spending the money anyway plus paying for food, gas, and rent, but it's still a heck of a lot to shell out at once right after graduating from college with no job.  Without help I know I wouldn't have been able to get even half of what I'm taking.

What does the Peace Corps do with people who just can't afford to purchase all the things that they need (and I think a good deal of what I bought was a "need" since my current wardrobe didn't at all overlap with the expected ?  Sure, the sleeping pad is a luxury, I could have used the 40 year old hiking backpack in our basement (with an external rectangular tube frame!) and I easily would have saved money if I'd had a few months to scour discount shops and the Salvation Army for clothes.  If I didn't bring a computer and didn't buy anything extra for my existing camera, I'd guess that I could have cut my spending in half but it would have been a lot more work to get everything and $1000 is still a lot of money.  Do they have financial aid for volunteers?  Or a secret stash in-country for people who arrive unprepared? Or do you just ask for a later nomination date in order to find a job?

1 comment:

  1. Belated Happy Birthday and we hope all is well. I love reading your stories about your adventures. We have a new package is on the way with lots of goodies. Enjoy every moment of your stay in Burkina, it will go way too fast.

    Love, Uncle Steve and the Queen