The Three Year Pizza

The other night Tunga and I were able to order a pizza and have it delivered to our home, pick up a bottle of water from the store, and play basketball with a dozen of the kids from the neighborhood at the park. A normal night it would seem, but actually it's the culmination of years and years of hard work by hundreds of people. There was no pizza delivery a few months ago (and no one in the city knew how to make pizza two years ago), the store we got water from wasn't around a year ago, and the neighborhood park was just an idea and architectural drawings when Alex and I began our service three years ago. "I bet Sukhbaatar has changed a lot since you first got here…" said my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Kate, who now serves in the hospital where I volunteered for two years, "What's it feel like to be back?"

Humbling. Wonderful. Inspiring. Hard to explain. Things change so quickly and I feel very lucky to have been here long enough to see just a few of those changes that I've been able to be a part of.

The Pizza
My first year in Sukhbaatar, starting in 2008, Alex, LP and I helped teach merit badge classes with the local Mongolian Scouts. We taught our Cooking Merit Badge at the local university with cafeteria chefs and taught them what they asked us: how to make pizza, hamburgers and hamburger buns. Everyone loved it, especially the chefs apparently, as one of them now makes pizzas at a new restaurant called Miss Pizza. They are amazing really, much healthier than what we taught them how to make, and since they take about 40 minutes to make they will deliver the pizza to your house for free. Incredible.

The Bottle of Water
My second year in Sukhbaatar, after being together with Tunga for a year, I had a long conversation with Tunga's father about communism, Mongolia's 20-year-old market economy and democracy, and the future of our province. Together with donors from around the world, we began what would become the Sukhbaatar Social Business Community Fund. It's only a few months old now, but the store has been built and it's amazing to watch the ripple effect it is having in the community. As the community fund replenishes itself with money from the store, we are very excited to think about where its impact will go.

The Neighborhood Park
Throughout our second year, Alex worked with the Provincial Children's Center for months creating the designs and researching the procurement, development, and construction of what would become the largest outdoor community park in our province. It had been a dream of many people for years, so when we approached the Children's Center with the idea they jumped on it immediately. With the support of Mike and JRC Sports for Peace, the leaders of the Children's Center approached thousands of people in our city over several months, getting thousands of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations. Alex wasn't able to see the construction finished, but it's wonderful. Amazing really. From my apartment window, from 6am until midnight every day I see dozens and dozens of people using the equipment, playing on the basketball court and sitting with their families and friends.

I think it's rare for Peace Corps Volunteers, or maybe volunteers of any kind, to be able to see the lasting changes their efforts make on a community. Two years seems like a long time until you live somewhere, just start getting the hang of something, and then your time is up. Two years, really? I stayed for a third, and now for a fourth, and I still can't believe how fast time has gone.

My point of course isn't the pizza, the water bottle or the park. Those things are great, and tasty, but the impact we all have on people and the communities we live in usually go far deeper than what we can see. The kids we smile with in the streets, the people we give a helping hand, and the people's lives we try to help make a little easier, those actions, no matter how small, are important ripples in a very big pond. My point is that those things matter, they go far deeper than you realize, and we all do things like that every day.

As I finish my Peace Corps service, I've started the Life is Volunteer project to keep these stories going. I want to hear from you, from people who are doing what they can to change themselves and change the world. I've already heard dozens of amazing stories from people all over and I'm very excited to share them with you. I've love to hear yours too. Please comment on this post or join us on Facebook or Google Plus to share your story. What kinds of things keep you excited to change yourself and change the world?