Michael Buckler stepped away from a job as a litigator representing Microsoft to pursue his dream to serve in the Peace Corps. During his service, Michael fell in love with Malawi and became increasing frustrated with what he saw happening around him. Even has aid and development groups were pouring a billion dollars into Malawi, resulting in countless projects, the rural poor were becoming poorer. After returning from Peace Corps Malawi in late 2008, Mike began searching for ways to improve development work in sub-Saharan Africa. His answer: Village X.
Photos from Michael’s Story
Michael Buckler’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
Malawi, 2006-08. My primary assignment was teaching at a secondary school. I engaged in several secondary projects, mostly in the environmental space. Of all the things I tried to impart or initiate, only two things worked: (1) tree planting within the fence surrounding my school; and (2) guacamole.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
I was the headmaster of CampSKY, an annual Peace Corps education camp for the brightest village students in Malawi who were entering their final year of secondary school. As I recall, we brought over 100 campers and staff from all over the country to a private school in Zomba with nice facilities, including a science lab, for two weeks of camp. We did this all for less than $10,000.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
It’s described in this article: http://www.humanosphere.org/basics/2015/09/the-not-so-easy-task-of-educating-girls/. Another low point was a gaffe I made during a speech before an assembly of students and teachers at my school. I tried to say that the teachers were confused about something, but I mistakenly substituted the Chichewa word for stupid in place of the word for confused. The students laughed, and the teachers were very unhappy.
What do you miss about Peace Corps?
I miss waking up everyday with the sole mission of serving others. Life is full of ambiguities and compromises, but the service component of my Peace Corps experience was unambiguous and pure. My mission was clear — I was in rural Malawi to advocate for the betterment of people living in extreme poverty. The Peace Corps model gave me the freedom and skill set to achieve that mission.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
The most important thing I learned in Peace Corps is that people make sense when you take time to understand them. Within the context of their everyday environments, and personal histories, people generally exhibit behaviors that seem appropriate, if not rational. Taking time to appreciate the unfamiliar in others is hard and involves literally walking in their shoes and studying their environments, including language, culture and history. It’s grueling, but the resulting enlightenment is worth it.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?”
Zimachitika — “things always happen” or “shit happens.” My favorite word is “kusangalala.” It means “to be happy.”
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