By Rick Grijalva
Aara Johnson has recently been elected President of The Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC). Aara is from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the lakes and parks make the city a paradise, and where pockets of art and music add a vibrant cultural touch. I interviewed Aara with the goal of providing a unique opportunity for PCVs and staff who will be working closely with her to learn a little more about her.
Board game: Monopoly
Childhood movie: Home Alone
TV Show: Friends
Cup of coffee: Black, no sugar, no cream.
Bands: Vampire Weekend, Bombay Bicycle Club, Phoenix, Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, to name a few.
What are you most proud of from your first year of service?
I’m proud of being well-received in my school and my community. I see that my teachers are excited to work with me. I’ve also helped out with camps and groups and recognize some positive results in the past year while having a good time and understanding life on the Caribbean Coast.
What advice would you give to a first-year volunteer?
First, accept anything that happens and know that it’s you against the world, in a sense. You may think things will be on time, or you may think things will go correctly, or you may think things will be planned, but they probably won’t. You’ll need to accept that and go with it. Be at peace with different expectations.
Second, try to say yes to a lot of things. If someone asks you to help with the school assembly, or if teachers are going to celebrate a birthday or something, say yes. Be with them in a social setting. Also, say yes to other volunteers if they need help with something.
Why say yes to a lot of things?
It shows that we’re open to helping and that we’re open to being part of others’ lives. Instead of being here to take care of my goals, to do my projects, and to look for someone to help us, we’re here to help the Colombian teachers.
What did you study and what are you most proud of from college?
I got my BA in political science at DePaul University in Chicago, and my Master’s in public policy at the University of Minnesota. I’m proud of developing the Catholic Ministry on campus [at DePaul]. When I started it was led by about four people, and they had a couple programs. I became more involved in my sophomore year through my senior year, and really helped it to grow. We grew the leadership team to 12 people. We quadrupled attendance at different programs. Now it has developed its Catholic identity in a stronger way through some of the work I did there. Also, I just really liked living in Chicago.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I’m in our church’s youth group band. I was singing, but I just brought my clarinet back from the US, so I’ll be playing that too. Lately I’ve been watching Lost, so don’t tell me how it ends. I also like to go to Juan Valdez with my journal and reflect because I like the atmosphere, sitting at a table with my tinto and writing. I also enjoy going to cultural events. I’m really excited for Carnaval, and all the pre-Carnaval events. Plus, I like to travel. I’ve been to a few cities in Colombia: Medellin, Bucaramanga, most of the Coast, and I plan to go to Bogotá and Cali as well.
What are you most excited about as VAC President?
I’m excited to help the new Country Director, Martha, and the new Director of Programming and Training, Jonathan, understand the PC Colombia Volunteer experience. I also look forward to working together with them to improve the program.