The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, April 14

I Was Worried

I was worried. All night, I hardly slept a wink. By the time I had to get up and give my presentation, my worry churned into utter fear. My voice trembled softly and my knees quivered beneath my pant legs threatening to snap like over wrought rubber bands at any moment.

I was in Miss Leece’s 6th grade class. My assignment was to tell my classmates about last night’s news. I do not know how I made it through the five minute presentation without disintegrating in front of everyone. I was absolutely terrified. Even now, I shudder thinking about it.

From earliest childhood, I had difficulty speaking. I use to say “wawa” for water. My family seemed to understand and I got what I wanted. But to outsiders, I guess, I was hardly intelligible.

I arrived in first grade needing to both read and pronounce my A-B-Cs. For three years I was given speech therapy so that I could say sounds like SH and CH and TH along with S and K and D and of course, A, E , I, O and U.

I remember my father. He drilled me several times a week in the back bedroom. It was tough going. I think I taught him patience as he taught me the sounds I needed to know. He did a good job. Thanks Pop. I know you would be proud of me now.

Last week I was invited to tell a new group of 35 Peace Corps volunteers about my 1st year experience in Ukraine. I was standing front of my peers again. This time, I stood with confidence.

My talk wove together 20 tips for survival and community integration along with stories of people I met and projects I accomplished. Most have been recorded here in my blog.

I told them how I learned my Russian numbers and colors by playing UNO in Russian. Every time a card is laid down the number and color must be said in Russian. My host family still loves to play the game. My friend Jim sent me extra games to give-a-way. Thanks Jim.

I told them about a wedding and how I was toasted by the father-of-the-bride as the first American to set foot in his home. “You are welcome here in my home - always.”

I told them about a former Soviet military man who lived his career preparing for war against America, and how he wrapped his arm around me in an embrace declaring to all present, “This is our American.”

I told them about Konotop’s first charity auction and the 11 new business contributors. “We didn’t have the confidence to ask businesses for donations. You gave us the idea that we could do it.”

I told them about another Peace Corps volunteer who sometimes doubts she has had much impact. But then a neighbor tells her, “You have changed my family’s life. “ Imagine….

I told them about teaching English and Leadership English and my new project to strengthen NGOs through Organizational Development Seminars. I shared an idea for a Leadership Network in Konotop and my hope to see it meeting regularly.

I ended with more tips and a refrain that they will succeed. “You can do it. Take time to build relationships. Be patient with your language learning. And manage your attitude. The Peace Corps is one grand adventure.”

As I sat down, there was applause and then a comment from the new Country Director of Peace Corps Ukraine. He said, “Thank you so much. Thank you, Jud. Your presentation was outstanding, simply extraordinary.”

As I beamed with pride and satisfaction, images of Pop’s language drills and speech classes and Miss Leece’s news report flashed across my memory screen.

And I thought about my dear mentor, Dr.David G. Buttrick who in my Seminary years taught me about the power of words. “Speak in images. Evoke pictures in the mind. And remember your structure. Structure is meaning.” Thank you, David, your teaching and friendship are treasured.

How strange it is. A kid, who had a hard time talking, has spent a good part of his life informing and motivating others. With words and stories, I think I am helping others in more ways than I will probably ever know. At least, I hope so.

I will savor last week not only for the kind and generous comments, but for all the history – my personal history - rolled into a job well done. What a grand adventure this past year has been.

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