Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Look Ma, I’m a Real Volunteer!

Speaking to US Ambassador Chaudry
after the ceremony
Wednesday, August 18th, was a special day for all the M25 HESC and EE PCTs – we swore in as volunteers and officially launched our service.  Let me decipher that sentence:
  • Wednesday, August 18th – hopefully clear
  • M25 – my training class, Moldova 25 (we’re the 25th group of volunteers in Moldova; these days there’s one training class a year)
  • HESC – Health Education in Schools and Communities, my program; commonly known as “Healthies”
  • EE – English Education program, commonly known as EEs; collectively we’re referred to as Education Volunteers as compared to the Development Volunteers
  • PCT – Peace Corps Trainee, what one is for the first 8-12 weeks in country; not volunteer in privileges, allowances, status, or job
  • PCV – Peace Corps Volunteer, what one becomes after successfully completing training and taking the oath; the formal beginning of the 2 years of service
In short, I stopped being a trainee, and started being a volunteer.  If the distinction sounds small to those who began thinking of Zach in terms of Peace Corps Moldova back in June, the distinction is quite large within the Peace Corps itself.

Along with the change in status comes a big life change: leaving the training site, where one has been within close range of the capital and PC Moldova HQ, comfortably in the care of two language professors and frequent classes with the program manager and older mentors, as well as being in a community with a handful of other Americans going through the same thing, and generally staying with host families that have hosted trainees before.  All this is left behind for our permanent sites, normally rural villages, many far flung (admittedly a relative term in this small country – I’m still only 3 hours from the Chişinau, less than a weekend trip to see Lindsey and Katie in the Roaring Fork Valley).  There are no language teachers to clarify the un-understandable, and instead of homework, we’re expected to begin doing actual work in communities that often have heroic conceptions of what volunteer will do.

Nevertheless, after 10 weeks of a grueling instruction program, most trainees are chomping at the bit to get out into the “real” PC world.

So we assembled in Bardar early in the morning, with all our worldly possessions, which have now doubled with the addition of various supplies and materials from the PC.  Then we went into Chişinau and were suddenly transferred from the dusty village world to the buzzing city.  Taking our oath in the Embassy District, we found ourselves amongst some of the glitziest settings in Moldova (again, a relative term), temporarily to be honored and congratulated before being whisked away back to a new dusty village.

Giving my speech
Ben makes his speech
The ceremony itself was quite nice.  There were a number of nice speeches during which people said nice things about us and our service and cultural exchange and diplomacy, and our oath was administered by American Ambassador to Moldova Asif Chaudhry.  I gave a speech in Romanian on behalf of all the Healthies, and my good friend Ben gave a speech in Russian on behalf of all the English volunteers.  This earned us a second round of cordialities from the Ambassador and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and European Integration of Moldova.

Speaking with Deputy PM Iurie Leancă
Finally, there was the oath.  Now, having to give a speech in a foreign language in front of dignitaries had generally occupied most of my attention when I thought about the ceremony in the days leading up to the event, so I hadn’t given this oath much thought before hand.  In my mind, it was merely a formality – like a wedding, it’s just the excuse to dress up and eat cake, which is what everybody is really there for.  But standing up on stage next to an American flag and listening to The Star Spangled Banner, a sensation of proud chills suddenly tingled down my spine.  As we raised our right hands and took the same oath that the President and every other official in the Federal Government of the United States of America takes, the moment took on a significance bigger than me and my daily work to improve public health programming in Moldova, and my decision to join Peace Corps became more than just an exciting personal and professional step.

The heady mix of anthem, oath, and dignitaries combined and multiplied. I was just one small piece of a much larger and more ambitious mission; a mission of world peace. And I was, in fact, joining millions of other men and women around the world in serving our nation, which imperfect as it may be, is still the greatest I have ever known.

M25s take our oath,
What a fine lookin' group!

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