Sunday, August 25, 2013

Officially a Volunteer

After a long two months of training (and an even longer 13 months of application processing!) I was officially sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on August 22, 2013.  

I made it! 

The ceremony was held at the Ambassador's house in Panama City, and in addition to the snazzy hors d'oeuvres (I ate so much... so much) we also had an impressive guest list: The Ambassador, the Director of Peace Corps Panama, the Vice Minister of Health, and the Minister of Agriculture.  

As if I wasn't already dealing with the full range of emotions in the days leading up to our swear in ceremony, I volunteered to speak on behalf of the agricultural program during the ceremony... in Spanish.  

Thanks to countless presentations at the McKenna School and years of 4-H Public Speaking, I wasn't too nervous about my speech.  However, I definitely underestimated the added challenge of presenting in a foreign language.  Those little butterflies that normally don't affect my presentations scrambled a few words, which was a little disappointing for the perfectionist in me.  Regardless, I'm really glad I had the guts to speak that day.  If you're curious about what I said, you can check out the english version by clicking through below the photo.  

(Typical somewhat longwinded Panamanian introduction...)

My name is Abigail Bryant and I am honored to speak on behalf of Group 73, Sustainable Agriculture Systems Program.  The twenty four of us began the long journey of becoming Volunteers more than a year ago.  Though we all had different reasons for wanting to serve in the Peace Corps, each of us wanted something more than a typical job and an average life.  We made the decision to spend two years in Panama, working amongst some of the poorest people in the country- away from our families, friends, and comfortable American lives.  While many people may think we are crazy, we know that we will gain much more than we give up during our two years in Panama.  As Winston Churchill once said, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”

And now we are here.  For two months we have learned about Panama’s major crops, we’ve struggled through countless Spanish miscommunications, and we’ve eaten more rice than ever could have imagined. 

As the Peace Corps staff has both trained and supported us, Group 73 has become stronger and smarter, and we have gained not only agricultural knowledge, but also friendships. 

Training wasn’t easy though- between homesickness, actual sickness, and a completely full schedule of classes, trips, and assignments; these past two months have been a challenge.  And yet, as we’re starting to realize, the real challenge is just starting. 

This weekend, Group 73 will separate and will travel to sites across Panama-from Darien to Bocas, and in many places in between.  We will spend the next two years not only improving agricultural practices, but also building relationships with our communities and making a new life for ourselves here in Panama. 

The next two years will not be easy.  There will be failed projects, meetings that don’t go quite right, and food we just don’t want to eat.  We will crave our comfortable, easy American lives, but we will stay here.  Because despite the challenges, there will be triumphs.  There will be farmers who harvest more, women who feel more empowered, and jovens who are inspired to learn more and to think about their future lives.  They are the reasons that we are here, because if we can change just one life, than the struggles we went through will be worthwhile, and we will know that we have made a difference, we have created a change. 

Politician Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among us who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

So, congratulations group 73.   I am proud to call you not just coworkers, but friends, and I cannot wait to celebrate your accomplishments here in Panama, and I look forward to bringing our newfound knowledge and experiences home to the United States in 2015. 

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