Friday, July 8, 2011

Finally a Volunteer.....

June 10, 2011, it was one of those beautiful Belizean summer days, clear blue skies, sunny, hot and humid. It is the day when we would be magically transformed from Trainees to Volunteers to start our long anticipated service. The day started with trying to get some breakfast, which is always a challenge around the Garden City Hotel because there are no places around the there to have any kind of breakfast. There wasn’t enough time to go to the market place either. I think I got three little tacos for a dollar from the lady who puts up a makeshift taco/burrito stand every morning across the hotel and an orange juice from the Chinese grocery store, which is commonly referred to as “chiney” here.  With that taken care of, we needed to get ready for the big event: Swearing in Ceremony at the Belize House, which is the official residence of Belize Governor General, at . We all got dressed in our best outfits and got picked up and delivered at the Belize House at 10. As the guests, host families and other Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) started to arrive at the great lawn of the Belize House and started gathering under a huge tent with about a dozen fans blowing in full blast, thirty seven soon to be volunteers were busy enjoying the moment and mingling with the crowd. I was pleased to have my host family from Salvapan come to the event and I was especially honored that my future workpartners Mayor of Benque Viejo DelCarmen Nick Ruiz and Vice Mayor Ana Castellanos representing the Town Council came all the way from Benque Viejo to join me at this special occasion.

With Roger German, Vice Mayor Castellanos and Mayor Ruiz

Picture taking was probably the most important activity of the morning and everyone wanted to have someway of remembering this special day. The day was truly a special and emotional day for all the volunteers of all ages, the new and the current, who made conscious decisions to serve humanity and consider it to be important enough to give up twenty seven months of their lives and to make the commitment to uphold the core tenet of Peace Corps to promote Peace and Friendship around the world.

Festivities started with Belize and U.S. National Anthems: Land of the Free and The Star Spangled Banner with the Governor General His Excellency Sir Colville Norbert Young, U.S. Charge` d’Affairs Mr. Jack Diffily, Peace Corps Country Director (CD) Nina Hernandez and Peace Corps Training Manager (TM) in Belize Jaime Brancato seated at the Head Table. All the honored guests, host families, host partners, volunteers, staff and the trainees were welcomed by Jamie, who never leaves anything for chance and has everything planned out to the last detail. She had the whole three months of training meticulously planned out to make sure that we were well trained not only worthy to be Peace Corps volunteers and to represent the United States of America well, but also be prepared to integrate well into the host country, which is one of the important aspects of Peace Corps’ approach to serving a host country. Country Director Nina Hernandez’s inspiring speech reminded everyone that we, as volunteers, bring the greatest gift of all, “gift of nothing”. We don’t bring any material gift but instead we bring love, friendship and peace. U.S. Charge` d’Affaires Mr. Jack Diffily  filled in for the Ambassador who was out of the country, told us about his own life changing experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo forty some years ago and how proud he was to be swearing in the new volunteers. He then did the formal swearing in of the Class of 2011 and presented our Certificate of Completion of Pre-Service Training.
The keynote Speaker Deputy Chief Education Officer, Ministry of Education Carol Babb related to us how she was inspired to have the best penmanship by a Peace Corps volunteer when she was a student many years ago and even today she cherishes that friendship. Roger German, who I have the distinct pleasure of eventually replacing when he ends his tour of duty in October, welcomed us on behalf of the Class of 2009 and in his characteristicly eloquent way explained how Peace Corps  changes one life at a time through love and care. He talked about how Tracy Hodson, a health care volunteer  helped a little Mayan child overcome her fear of “white people” by being caring and loving. Zachary Pullin, on behalf of the Class of 2010, greeted us and applauded us for embodying the spirit of service, a service that is not about our personal goals, personal vision or personal responsibilities but it is about shared goals, shared vision and shared responsibilities

The session concluded with thank yous from the class of 2011. On behalf of the Class of 2011, Rogelio (Roy) Flores II, Melissa Ng and Taylor Munz thanked everyone in Spanish, Q’eqchi and Kriol respectively followed by a wonderful Vote of Thanks by Breezie O’Neill. We lunched on a typical Belizean dish: beans and rice, chicken, patato salad, bread pudding and coke.

Class of 2011
Cayo District Volunteers
Goofing around
In the afternoon we had our traditional “mock” rivalry of a friendly football (soccer) game between the new volunteers and the current volunteers. We beat the veterans hands down 3-0. I had to nurse my old knee for the next three days after the game. Later we got ready for an evening reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s private residence, a treat we will not forget. Everyone looked very elegent in their evening dresses as we were received by the Charge` D’Affaires and his wife at the Ambassador’s very lush and sprawling residence.

After formal welcomes, some tasty hors d’oeuvres and wine we were treated to the most delicious dinner we have had since we arrived in Belize. The menu was ceasar salad, grilled red snapper, steamed vegetables, potatoes au gratin, and chocolate cherry cake. Charge` D’Affaires was most gracious and spent time talking to all of us and shared stories of his Peace Corps days and of the various State Department assignments he had over the years. 

With Peace Corps Country Director Nina Hernandez 
With U.S. Charge` d’Affaires Mr. Jack Diffily
Well all good things come to an end and so did our wonderful evening and we headed to the hotel. Next day it was time to say good byes to each other as we got ready to move to our respective sites and start our long anticipated two years of service. Moving to Benque Viejo Del Carmen next….   

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