hours up a volcano before finally arriving at my site. I was assigned to work at a Rural Training Center (RTC), an educational alternative for local students who could not afford or did not have access to secondary school. The Peace Corps had asked me to teach mechanical skills, business skills, and English, as well as to organize income-generating activities to help support the RTC. I soon discovered, however, that there were only two trucks on the island, which led me to question not only the value of mechanical training for the people living there but also the function of the Peace Corps in general. If students learned mechanics, for example, would they have to leave the island in order to practice their skills, or was the number of trucks there expected to increase soon? The training objectives seemed to be misaligned with the local environment.
Listed as 126th on the Human Development Index in 2009, Vanuatu is a developing country close to the bottom of this scale. While there, however, I noticed that no one at any of our volunteer sites was hungry or homeless, and I observed that, for the most part, the people lived a self-sustained life—a type of sustainability that some advanced countries are only beginning to move toward in the twenty-first century. The residents tended their gardens and livestock and built their homes primarily with the natural materials available from the land. My host family asked me to tutor their daughter, who was struggling at her primary school, where English was the language of instruction. English is the third language for most students in Vanuatu—the first two are the local language spoken in each village and Bislama, a Pidgin English that has evolved as a national language. After observing the self-sustaining nature of life in this country and tutoring my host family “sister” in English and math, I began to wonder what the function of education was in such a place. How would English and math benefit this young woman in a self-sufficient, agrarian economy? These were standard subjects in my own educational background, but their utility seemed negligible for students in Vanuatu. During my Peace Corps training, globalization and capitalism had been described as “inevitable forces”; I wondered whether the role I played in this islander's education was making those forces inevitable and—ultimately—undercutting her ability to be successful in her home country. I began to wonder how education could help preserve the well-being of this country as it collided with an increasingly global economy.