Interview was conducted by Katie Anderson with Kat’s Eye View and Ashley DeBoer with Thoughtful Blonde
Katie and I prompted questions and Jamie answered, so all the answers will be recorded in first person.
Jamelyn Ebelacker, you can call me Jamie.
Quick background on Jamie: Jamie is currently serving in St. Lucia, but she began her service in Dominica, where Jamie along with her fellow PCVs were later evacuated due to hurricane Maria 2 years ago. After months of rebuilding and recouping, she had to change her assignment to work in St. Lucia. She is the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean social media guru and a great mentor to many trainees, as she is the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. We are so excited to share her thoughts and advice with you all!
Educational Background on Jamelyn:
I went to a very small high school in Anchorage, Alaska at Steller Secondary School. That was the beginning development of my ability to work independently and create projects on my own. Then, I went to the Institute of Native American Arts in Sante Fe, New Mexico, where I got my BFA in New Media Arts. My background is a big driving factor in what I do on the island as far as my projects go, digitally and artistically.
What is your title/ role in the Peace Corps?
My title is English Literacy Co-Teacher, but you wear many hats here. Some other titles that are used are Literacy Support and Literacy Specialist, but essentially, you are working with a counterpart teacher or two, and then working on different projects and committees.
What does a typical day look like for you? Where do you spend your days?
When school is in session, it’s basically wake up, get ready, and then my school is almost in my backyard, so I just walk on over as the bell is ringing. I get there as the kids are lining up then it begins with morning songs, prayers, and then depending on how many teachers are there, it’s a matter of morning exercising, getting the kids settled, and easing them into the day. After that, the day is utter chaos, but it’s FUN. It’s both fun and frustrating, but that’s part of the challenge for the volunteer to make it more fun than frustrating.
Why did you choose to serve in the PC/ go to the Eastern Caribbean?
Eastern Caribbean was actually my third choice because I didn’t think I was necessarily qualified for the position, but something drew me to pick the EC as my third choice when I was applying. I’m so happy it did. I think rather than me picking this post, this post picked me. That’s how I’ve continued to feel throughout my service. There’s a continuity of kismet that underlies my service, things that just feel right. Those things remind me that I’m in place that I’m meant to be.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
In my family, I have two places where I draw my inspiration from. First, on my dad’s Native American side, I can come from a very long line of powerful women, matriarchs that really carried the family through tough times and I try to draw inspiration from their struggles and their triumphs. On another part of my family, the multigenerational members of the armed services, I come from a long line of military— both of my parents, grandparents, their parents, and so on, both on the native and non-native side. I knew I always wanted to serve and give back, but I didn’t want to be in the military or be in a position where I may have to harm someone. So I figured this is the best possible outcome: I still get to serve my country in the Peace Corps and spread the love, instead of the hate.
What’s your favorite part about service?
Every single day is something new! For someone who gets easily bored or distracted, I love that. I love that I never know what’s going to happen day to day and there’s always something new to learn and try. That’s a beautiful way to live life.
If you could give a new peace corp trainee any advice knowing what you know, what would that be?
In my wise second year of being a PCV, the best advice I could give to a trainee is that your service isn’t going to look like anyone else’s and you can’t compare it to anyone else’s. You can’t go into your site and look at what the previous volunteer before you did, and try to uphold that same standard for yourself. You have to do your own time and create your own path, and not be so hard on yourself if your service doesn’t look like your neighbors or another volunteer’s. And that’s the beautiful thing about it, service is different for everyone.
What is the most challenging aspect of service for you?
The most challenging part was dealing with hurricane Maria and how that really affected me on so many levels. You never think you’re going to join the Peace Corps and then you’re going to go through these experiences, but it’s been both good and bad. I learned a lot about myself, especially how I am and how I react in emergency and desperate situations. Even in the face of those situations, I’m proud of my response. People can choose “flight or fight” during those challenging times or shrink under the pressure, I’m proud to know that I could remain strong and step up for my Peace Corp family. That was a big challenge because that was my family in the moment, and not having control or the ability to take care of them as best as I wanted to, that was the hardest part. I’ve learned a lot about being prepared ahead of time now and taking things seriously, and being sympathetic to everyone’s situation. No matter what happens to a volunteer during their service, I know it’s not easy, and I’m here for you and whatever you need. That’s the biggest lesson I got out of that.
***Hurricanes are a reality for us on Eastern Caribbean, and things can change in a blink of an eye while living on the island. PC provides evacuation/ consolidation routes and preparation sessions during training**
Greatest achievements during service?
Another PCV we interviewed Emily chimed in about Jamie to give credit where credit is due, and Jamie is responsible for getting all of the social media started for the Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean. She has grown the social media pages through her art, vision, and consistency.
Jamie: “PC Eastern Caribbean is one of the oldest posts, yet we don’t have a facebook, instagram, youtube like these other posts. Where is ours? Why don’t we have those? It blew my mind, so it fell at my feet to make it happen with the support of other great volunteers. I’ve built on that with my expertise and I feel as though I’ve built the foundation for something that will last long after I’m gone”
What are some projects you’ve been involved with and never expected to outside of the primary literacy project?
There two different categories for this— the at school projects and the community projects. At school, I never expected to be wearing an apron in the kitchen, baking up bakes and doughnuts for fundraisers and hanging out with the cool ladies in the kitchen, but here I am. In the community, I never expected to be taking over St. Lucia’s longest running beach and community clean up, helping it grow and bringing it up to a whole new level, but it’s been a beautiful way to feel as though I’m giving back. A few other things I do are mostly online by sending newsletters, emails, and running the social media. I take on a lot of digital projects, and although I didn’t expect to do that when coming down here, I’m glad I get to put my degree to good use and give back way in a way that was unexpected.
Top things you think are essential to pack/ couldn’t live without!
EXTRA cords (phone cords, headphones, battery charges), you’ll need it. Hot sauces. ASS WIPES.
How did you budget your money on a peace corps stipend?/ do you have any budgeting tips while in the peace corps?
You’re always going to run up against that low number in your account towards the end of the month, unless you eat like a bird and never leave your house. One of the things I do to combat that is I ALWAYS within a day or two of the money dropping into my account, I go and take out the money that I need for rent, gas, electric, fix bills, and stuff it away in a safe place until I can pay it. Being able to break it down and you get a VICA that breaks it down for your costs/ expenses is extremely helpful. Even if you aren’t the best at planning, make a rudimentary budget to see how much you can really spend on going out, travel, the extra things, until you are able to self regulate.
Be thrifty and channel your inner recycler. I wear things will holes in them and then sow them up when they get too bad. I make my own furniture out of rum bottles. I just keep reusing and repurposing things, which helps stretch the budget. GET CRAFTY!
Why did you decide to extend your service for a 3rd year? What are your intentions for your close of service?
I decided to extend because I fell in love with St. Lucia. I fell in love with the food, the views, the people, and the culture. I realized when we had to make the decision to extend, I wasn’t done. I wasn’t ready to start saying my goodbyes and that I had more to contribute. By extending, it would allow me to continue my projects and make sure they were ready for my locals and host country nationals and neighbors to take them over when I leave. I really wanted to spend more time living on a tropical island.
My intentions for COS, I am still thinking about it. There’s so many things I want to do, but I’ve narrowed it down to get a MBA and/or applying to work for the National Park Service. That sounds like a dang good time! (side note, peace corps has great connections with fellowships).
Thank you so much Jamie for sharing your heart and experience with us all at Thoughtful Blonde and Kat’s Eye View! Stay tuned for the next interview!