Finding life in Peace

Living in a grass-and-dung hut with no electricity is how Caitlin Robinson pictured her Peace Corps experience in her mind.

Replace the hut with an apartment, candles with electricity and throw in running water and the Internet for good measure, and this is how the Huntington Beach resident lives in southwestern Bulgaria in a village with a population of 500.

Robinson is about half way through a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps. The Cal State Long Beach graduate wanted to travel, work overseas and decide on whether to go to graduate school in Arizona or Alaska, but mostly, the 25-year-old wanted to experience a different culture "from the inside out."

"I've had the opportunity to travel all over the world, but traveling sporadically just isn't enough to really experience a culture," she said in an e-mail from Bulgaria. Robinson said she isn't allowed to disclose her village's name.

The Huntington Beach resident had beeing talking about volunteering for sometime, so it wasn't a suprise when she decided to join, said mother Pamela Robinson. Her daughter wanting to join was a weird coincidence though. When Pamela Robinson was Caitlin's age, she had considered joining the Peace Corps., but never mentioned the fact to Caitlin, she said.

Living in her village, Caitlin Robinson has gotten to know the people "from the inside out." Most of the villagers have more than one garden and keep livestock, because their pay is too low to pay for food, she said. But it's also more than that — it's tradition.

They hang beans from their balconies to dry in the autumn, can their own fruit and make their own jams in the fall, and dry herbs from the mountains for tea and medicine.

Life, she said, isn't easy in her village, and trying to convey her experiences when she returns isn't going to be any easier.

"No matter how many pictures I show [or] how many stories I tell, nothing can really convey the experience of living in post–communist Eastern Europe for two years," she said.

As a youth development volunteer, Caitlin Robinson teaches English to kindergarteners — doing circle time, singing songs and doing art projects — but she took on another project to refurbish her school's playground. Robinson wants to replace the school's makeshift jungle gym with a new one, repaint the seesaw and build a sandbox with a wooden roof with the help of her hometown.

Robinson is trying to raise money through the Peace Corps Partnership Project which only allows donations from her friends, family and hometown. The move gives her the opportunity to create a connection between her home and her Bulgaria home.

"For sentimental reasons I am excited to establish a partnership between my Bulgarian community and my Huntington Beach community," she said.

The experience of planning, implementing and trying to raise the money for a project like this is completely new for the Peace Corps volunteer, Pamela Robinson said. Seeing it completed will be meaningful for her daughter, she said.

"Her being able to do this will really be proof that she can do anything," she said.

How To Help

Caitlin Robinson is trying to raise $3,290 to refurbish the playground at the school where she teaches in Bulgaria. To donate online to the Peace Corps Partnership Project, visit and click "donate now."

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