Ep #031: Megan Riethmiller, Uganda 2015-2016
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Megan Riethmiller wanted to serve in the Peace Corps since childhood, a dream that began in kindergarten with a pen pal who was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya. Yet, her service in Uganda was marked by tragedy when she was sexually assaulted on her first day of teaching. This, however, is only part of her Peace Corps story.
Photos from Megan’s Story
Megan Riethmiller’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I was an Education Volunteer in Uganda from 2015-2016. I served in a primary teacher’s college before being transitioned to a village primary school. I greatly enjoyed my time at the primary school where I taught literacy to P2, P3, and P4 pupils. I also helped my school develop a relationship with the national spelling bee competition and worked on a Reusable Menstrual Pads workshop for P4-P7 pupils. My non-school related activities included: Grassroots Soccer to teach HIV/AIDS prevention through the sport, the Malaria Think Tank, and Youth Technical Training workshops throughout Uganda.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
I have many great memories of Peace Corps, and it is hard to pick one. My favorite memory at school was the RUMPS workshop and seeing both boys and girls making the RUMPS. Everyone was singing and dancing while they were sewing, and it was a fantastic experience to witness. They were all genuinely excited about the project. The girls were ecstatic to have these pads and the boys took home the pads to give them to their mothers and sisters. It was one of the most uplifting experiences of my service. Also, the Youth Technical Training experience greatly transformed my outlook of my service. I also have to say that some of my best memories are with my fellow volunteers. As a cohort, we went and stayed for a weekend at a hostel on the Nile River, and it was easily one of my best experiences in Peace Corps.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
I think everyone is expecting me to say my sexual assault since that has become the main focus of my service for many news outlets and outside people. However, I will say it is a broader theme of feeling helpless and failing. When I signed up to be a volunteer, I went in with all that humanitarian motivation of going and changing the world. And for anyone who has done Peace Corps, we know that the reality is far more complicated than that.
I questioned my impact while I was there, and I still do. I felt like I failed my students when I couldn’t get the school board to back one of my projects. I felt like I failed countless girls when my predator was not brought to justice. I felt like I failed when I sat in the PC office for months while attending therapy and going to doctors appointments for a broken foot instead of being out in the field like my fellow volunteers. I felt like I failed when I got on the plane for my medical evacuation to come home and have surgery. And I felt like I failed again when I came to the realization that I could not go back to Uganda. That feeling of failure and not being able to do anything is something that still sticks with me.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
I have to say the people I worked with and my fellow volunteers were the best parts of my service. Peace Corps really is a family. I also miss the pace of the PC lifestyle. I miss who I was there. I was a lot calmer because everything and everyone moves at a more relaxed pace. I took the time to care and get to know people, and they did the same in return. The general sense of family and belonging is something that is truly unique to this experience.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
Peace Corps has taught me that everything is about perspective and constantly re-evaluating that perspective. Things are only as bad as you say they are. I could look at all the things that went wrong during my service or talk about all the wonderful aspects of Peace Corps. Up until this point, I would like to think I did the latter. I tried to keep the perspective that there was good in Uganda and in Peace Corps.
When I joined the Peace Corps, I said my passion was girls’ education and empowerment. That was something I wanted to accomplish in my school, but many of my projects did not have the impact I wanted. Again, this relates back to that feeling of failure. I had a friend who told me that maybe I should change my perspective on this. Yes, I failed at getting girls to represent my school at the regional spelling bee, but I was fighting another battle for survivors of sexual assault. That’s something that stuck with me throughout my service and is one of the main motivators of why I came forward with my story.
I failed countless women during my service, but I am trying to do something about it now. I’m getting a second chance to fulfill what I wanted out of Peace Corps–improving at least one girl’s life. And I hope I can do that for someone out there. My perspective on my service and my role in Peace Corps has drastically changed, but I am forever thankful for my friend for telling me to change my perspective.
February 20, 2018 @ 11:59 am
Dear Ms Reithmiller,
You will only know if you have truly failed in 20-30 years. You may be very surprised by what your time there meant to the people you worked with. Somehow, keep in touch or make the real effort to go back in a few years. You will have made a difference.
February 20, 2018 @ 9:59 pm
Thank you for sharing this interview! I am a Peace Corps volunteer that had to fight off an attacker. I was allowed to change my site to another part of the country but the cultural attitudes of how men can treat women is such an issue in so many parts of the world! I was extremely careful with whom I allowed in my house or even near me. I basically changed my behaviors so I could stay. I’m glad that I did and that I could. I wish Peace Corps offered more treatment for people who have been attacked. It should be part of a full health treatment.
February 22, 2018 @ 8:58 pm
Dear Megan, It makes me sad to hear you say that you felt like a failure. In my eyes anyone who can pack 2 suitcases for 2 years, travel thousands of miles from your family and friends to Volunteer is my definition of SUCCESS. You brought smiles,love and daily English lessons to those precious Ugandan children. God bless you.
RPCV Ethiopia 1996-98