Daniel: Serving in the Peace Corps with a Prosthetic Limb

March 2nd, 2016 by | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Daniel, an Education Peace Corps Volunteer, has been serving in Cameroon since May 2015.  He teaches high school physics to large classes of 60 students each.  I took an opportunity to interview Daniel because he is another Peace Corps Volunteer who also happens to have a disability.  He is an amputee and wears a prosthetic leg.  In this interview, he shares his experiences in applying to join the Peace Corps, his work, how Cameroonians view him and tips for persons with disabilities who are interested in serving the Peace Corps.

Daniel

What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?

I started applying for the Peace Corps during my senior year of college. Two primary reasons led me to make this decision. I wished to lead a life devoted to service and being fulfilled along the way isn’t such a bad gig. Conveniently, being fulfilled and participating in service go pretty well together.

At an internship the previous summer, I realized that a job I would hold in engineering would not be an entirely fulfilling path and I wasn’t really helping anyone. I was far behind the front lines. It felt wrong. I wanted to break away from that conventional path of settling in with that day job mentality like so many of my friends, so joining the Peace Corps just felt like the right thing to do.

Did you face any challenges during the application process for Peace Corps because of your disability?

Not particularly. The only challenges I faced were administrative timelines because I had to compile all of my medical history within a month. That was hectic. In the application, I was very candid about my physical abilities. I explained how I always participated in athletics from growing up as a little league boy to competing in college intramurals. I never saw my prosthetic as a factor which would compromise my admittance, and it’s never been a huge detriment in the past. So I approached it matter-of-factly in describing its existence. I never held any reservation to believe that it would be a detriment to my service. And it hasn’t been thus far.

Did your family have any concerns about joining the Peace Corps because of your disability?

My parents never treated me any differently. I had my leg amputated when I was four because of a frisky cancer flood in my left calf. I never got special treatment and I got into just as much trouble with it as I would have without it. My parents and family in general are always concerned about me, but my missing limb usually has little to do with that. My Peace Corps adventure just worries them now because the control they have over my health and safety was just reduced from “a little” to “nilch”.

Could you share what kind of work you’re doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer?

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am a high school science teacher. I have a physics class I teach which consists of students who are around twelve or thirteen years old. I have two sections of this class and there are about sixty students in each class. They are quite a riot! I also teach a chemistry class to older students who are around seventeen. There are only five of them and they are much calmer. I have also started a science club with my physics students where we meet outside the normal class hours. The upper level students will be taking their “advanced levels” for university admittance and I have been helping them study in the science sections.

I have also been in contact with a nonprofit organization which delivers equipment and instruction to people of disability in the south west region of Cameroon. I have a background in biomedical engineering and a couple of decades in managing my amputation, so I have been able to help out with a couple of their clients. Their clients range from all ages and many types of disabilities. Their solutions range from specialty wheelchairs, prosthetics, crutches, and a lot of instructional advice.

In Cameroon, persons with disabilities are often shunned and kept in homes because they are often seen as worthless.  Does your community accept your disability?  Have you faced any stigma or discrimination because of your disability?

Sometimes when I walk into the town to buy some fruits and veggies I have the gall to wear shorts. I walk with a noticeable hitch in my step (especially on these rocky roads) and the prosthetic is rather difficult to miss. But I have never experienced any negative comments regarding my self-worth or discrimination in general. It’s a rare occasion when someone calls me out with negativity for having a prosthetic leg. It hasn’t happened yet. Sometimes people gesture with a casual “ashia” towards my prosthetic and children stare at it like they are seeing an Apollo spacecraft. But that’s all normal and I’ve been witnessing staring children for as long as I can remember.?

I haven’t ever talked about my prosthetic any more than explaining it as an unfortunate accident. This is a lie, but I don’t want to throw that cancer word around because accidents are more relatable to people here. I’ve mentioned that I had cancer to a couple people here. They reacted in a way to demean Cameroon and the lack of technology and medicine available. I’m already white and American. I don’t wish to separate myself any further by having had the means of surviving cancer with treatments and surgery that are worlds away. Accidents are simple, so that’s the way I go. It may not be right, but I’d rather have an easier time relating to people than going into conversations which place my background conveniently aligned with the advancement of medical technology.

Have you educated people in your community about persons with disabilities and broken any myths about persons with disabilities?

This sounds bad, but I have not led any education on disability. Most of the time I just ignore my own physical handicap and go about my day without mentioning it. I’m bad at being disabled – or even a representative of the disabled. I only really discuss it socially when others bring it up and I generally don’t go into too much detail. Perhaps I can destroy these myths by just going about my day as usual.

What tips would you give to persons with disabilities who are applying to join the Peace Corps and about to start their service?

I can only speak from my own experience. If there’s anything thing I know about any disability, it’s that they are all different and everyone manages it their own way. So really I don’t know anything about anyone else’s disability – or particularly how others manage it. And it’s this management part which is most important because that relies on our attitude. Maybe those high school cheerleaders were right:

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E – THAT’S WHAT WE’VE GOT – A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E

I don’t want to sound like that motivational hand book you always keep in the bathroom for some light reading, but attitude is the one thing we can control. We can’t really control the facts of our situation, but we can control how we deal with those things.

I never thought of my prosthetic leg as being a problem risking my health, service, or security. So I didn’t approach it as a problem in the application. I approached the issue as something I could overcome. I gave all sorts of examples of activities I’ve participated in the past which proved my ability to overcome the adversity of my amputation. I have had enough experience with it to be confident that I could overcome all the normal day to day stuff. So far, I have been right. So provide instances of adversity you have overcome in the past and relate that to how you will apply those experiences to your time in the Peace Corps.

Most of all though, reflect upon your own reasons for joining the Peace Corps. If these reasons are more influential than your disability-ridden reservations, then I’d say go for it!

Share!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page

1 Comment

March 4, 2016 at 2:32 pm

Wonderful article! God bless you, and keep up the great work!
Frans Vischer, parent of a PC volunteer in Benin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *