10 January 2009

Peace Corps Swearing-In Speech

Swearing In Ceremony Speech –

8 January 2009

Maseru, Lesotho

Jack Murphy

Hello and welcome:

US Embassy,

Lesotho Ministry of Education

Supervisors and Counterparts

Peace Corps Staff, Trainers and Volunteers

and, of course, fellow PCVs....who have recently traded in their Scarlet “T” for a coveted “V.”

My name is Jack Murphy.

Some of you may think of me as John, but don't let my birth certificate, drivers licence, passport or PC ID fool you...I assure you my name is Jack.

So here we are.

Months and in most cases years of thought and preparation for today and the two years to come. For two of those in our group, much of that time, I'm sure, was spent asking “Do I really want to leave all my friends and family at home to go live in a hut halfway around the world....YET AGAIN!?” Well, ladies, we are all glad that for the two of you the answer was “yes”.

Each of us asked ourselves many similar questions. We have decided to come here for different reasons and we have prepared in our own unique ways. Yet, OUR story as a group starts exactly 58 days ago in the little American hamlet of Philadelphia. This story, as it has been written thus far, contains tales of an airplane flight that ended exactly where it began, many many hours of training sessions, the Great Biscuit Riot of 2008, the Great Pen Skirmish, land crusers, and the simultaneous soaking of both our boss and the US ambassador to Lesotho in one now infamous maneuver I affectionately call the “Cullenball”... yet there are many entries to come which we begin to write today – metaphorically and for those of us with blogs... quite literally. (see you on the back porch after the ceremony) I dare not attempt to tell that whole story now, but if you're interested I encourage you all to visit ...

So, 58 days ago. 58 days ago I walked into the conference room where these 19 souls first converged. I arrived, for the sake of full disclosure, late. The fortunate aspect of my tardiness was that it granted me the pleasure of observing this group in whole... as I do right now. During the weeks and especially the days building up to staging, much of my time was devoted to envisioning who you all would be, what skills and experiences you would bring to Lesotho and whether you would be a tolerable, let alone enjoyable, group to spend an ungodly amount of time with - often in exceptionally small spaces. When I walked into that room, nervous as hell, and first laid eyes on all of you, I thought to myself... “This here is an extraordinar...ily pitiful group of wide-eyed wet-behind-the-ears dilettantes. I asked myself “is it possible that this group upon arrival might single-handedly set development efforts in Lesotho back a year ... even two.”

Yet as the days turned into weeks... turned into months.... turned into.... 58 days, you have all thoroughly and definitively proven me wrong. Through our discussions in-route, our participation in the plethora of workshops and practice teaching together I have learned that we all share a passion and commitment to working with, learning from, and helping to improve the lives of the people of Lesotho. I have come to know the skills and experience you all bring to your work, the creativity you bring to the classroom, your willingness to support and encourage fellow volunteers and perhaps most importantly, your openness to improving yourselves.

Now, before we get too full of ourselves, our preparedness to swear-in and begin service as PCVs today is only partially attributable to the preceding factors. The lion's share of acknowledgment deservedly belongs to our exceptional team of trainers who were there at the Mashoeshoe I International Airport with open arms to warmly welcome us ... twice. Personally, I would have said “Their on their own” after the first time BUT THEY returned on day two and not only welcomed us but proceeded to guide us through an intensive yet effective training program producing the prepared and confident group we are today. So, to Me' M and all the training staff ... Rea Leboha.

So, are you guys ready? “Are you still committed?” Yes....why? What do we get out of this? I know what you're thinking....its the money. If this was your incentive, hopefully you got the hint when the first phrase they taught us on arrival was “Ha ke na chelete.” Now, if THAT was your first hint, I'm Sorry. For the rest of us there must be some other reason...right? When Phillip here, a well educated engineer holding a masters degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering working at a well respected firm in LA told his employers that he was leaving they asked him how much it would take to keep him on. He told them he was joining the Peace Corps and they realized that while a higher paying salary may be hard to compete with, the salary of a volunteer is the hardest....AND the reason is that we are, in fact, not in it for the money. We're here for other reasons. I will not try to define what these reasons are as I'm sure they range greatly. But whatever each of your reasons, I honor it and thank you for being here with me on this adventure.

On our first day in Lesotho, Ntate Ted asked us each to stand up and mention a person or group we admire. I mentioned that I admired everyone present then. Well the same is true this morning. I admire all of YOU, all of the people here today, because we are together engaged in a great project of cooperation; simultaneously visualizing and acting toward a better future. In fact , this project is greater than we can immediately know. While we search for measurable accountability of our effect, the truth is the greatest effects are often hidden from us several steps down the causal chain. For example, a student who we help to think critically years from now takes an unconventional look at the HIV virus and finds a breakthrough; a teacher who we help to bring creativity into the classroom inspires a class of students who in turn inspire a generation of Basotho to gain the confidence and skills necessary to guide their nation toward their own image of a better future; a child in the states who listens to my (very long) stories of Lesotho in turn decides to commit her life to service sustaining this chain of positive effects.

Or maybe some of the ripest fruit of our labor here will not manifest in the large scale, but rather on the small scale in individual lives. For instance, a young women in our class gaining the confidence to advocate for herself both at home and in the workplace; a young boy who learns about HIV/AIDS prevention and takes the necessary steps to protect his and the lives of many others. Maybe that boy will also feel comfortable talking to his friends about safe sex helping to encourage open conversation on the subject. Rarely, if ever, will we have the pleasure of seeing such results of our work here come to fruition but we must remember we are planting seeds that will grow and bear fruit long after we are gone.

We also must remember that our task need not be overwhelming. We are NOT here to solve the problems of Lesotho. Rather, we are here to share our skills and experiences. To work in partnership with host country nationals, assisting them in finding their own solutions to challenges they face. I believe both specifically for Lesotho and more generally for Africa that sustainable solutions to Africa's challenges will be created and implemented by Africans themselves. Our task is to do what we can to help the Basotho leaders of tomorrow gain the confidence, knowledge and skills necessary to take on these challenges. That is why we are so lucky to be here as education volunteers; social and economic change begins with education.

So, let's go now and not only teach, but also work in partnership with students and educators to encourage critically thinking, support active problem solving, as well as build friendships and enjoy our time in this beautiful mountain kingdom. This is our task as I see it and there is no where I would rather be today than here with this group taking our first steps in Lesotho as Peace Corps Volunteers.

Thanks you.


Robert said...

An excellent speech if I do say so myself.

Teresa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa said...

Jack, or if you wish, John. I happened upon your blog and, as you might guess very much enjoyed your speech, writings and terrific photos. I am Phil Yongren's mother and peridically view other blogs....yours brought me a step closer to Lesotho and to Phil. Thank you. Wishes and blessings for a very rewarding and happy 2009. Teresa