A Part of the Peace Corps
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Early on Christmas morning, the summer sun rose above the tall mountains that surround my village in Lesotho, a small country in Southern Africa. A sheep, with its long white coat, thick horns and hooves uniquely suited for steep mountains slopes, stood eating the grass of my shared front yard. Oblivious to the Christmas festivities beginning around it, the sheep did not seem to realize that its last minutes were fast approaching. I am used to cuts of meat sitting properly on a refrigerated shelves, not walking around in my front yard. If you asked me after I graduated from Coe-Brown in the Spring of 2014 where I saw myself in five years, spending Christmas morning learning how to cook a sheep over an open fire would not have cracked my list.
Five years later, here I am. I am a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English for two years in a small primary school in the mountainous highlands of Lesotho. Peace Corps is a governmental organization founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to share skills and promote cross-cultural understanding between Americans and people in countries all over the world. Since 1961, I am just one of more than 220,000 Americans who have worked to combat HIV/AIDS, improve food security, increase access to technology and improve educational outcomes in classrooms in 141 countries around the world.
I teach English to 232 students in grades 1 through 7. In first grade we are singing songs to learn the alphabet, while in seventh grade we are reading short stories and practicing for the regional spelling bee in the spring. I teach and learn alongside Basotho teachers who help me overcome the language gap and lend me their considerable experience in the classroom. At recess boys and girls rush to play soccer on one of the only flat areas for miles around. Although the ball is deflated and the goal posts are rocks, the game is just as meaningful as any.
Lesotho is a beautiful and often overlooked country that defies expectations and preconceptions about Africa and Africans. Known as the Kingdom in the Sky, Lesotho receives the highest rainfall per year in Southern Africa, turning the brown mountains to verdant shades of green. During the winter, consistent snowfall allows one of Africa’s only ski slopes to operate. So stark is the contrast to generally arid Southern Africa, that many scenes from the popular 2018 movie Black Panther were filmed in Lesotho. The people of Lesotho, known as Basotho, are very generous and welcoming. From teaching me how to wash my clothes in the nearby river, to helping me set up a vegetable garden at home or even teaching me how to properly cook the sheep on Christmas Day, they have made me feel welcome in my new home.
If anything, living in Lesotho has given me a better perspective on growing up in America. Things that we take for granted, like driving a car and not sleeping in a room with siblings and parents, or easy access to health care and free K-12 public school education, are out of reach to many Basotho. Even things as seemingly mundane as a dishwasher, washing machine or Dunkin Donuts iced coffee are not practical realities for most Basotho. Without easy access to material wants, members of my community do not despair (unlike me, who is counting down the days until my next hot shower). Rather, there is an incredible level of community cohesion and cooperation that fills in the gaps.
If you are interested in Peace Corps, Lesotho or have any question, please feel free to reach out to me. You can follow my Peace Corps service on instagram - @benbutchr - or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.