Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Michael "Mike" Kerr, November 16, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Motivation for joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Good morning. I'm talking to Michael, otherwise known as Mike, Kerr. And this is--oh, today is November 16, 2020. This is Candice Wiggum, RPCV from North Macedonia from 2009 to 2012. And I'm interviewing Michael "Mike" Kerr who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, uh, from 2010 until 2012 where he served as a community health and economic development advisor Volunteer.

Segment Synopsis: In 2007, Kerr studied abroad in The Gambia as part of a student exchange program which included a volunteer component. This inspired Kerr to do more volunteer work. Kerr also wanted to travel more in an inexpensive, secure way.

Keywords: Influences; Professors; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Safety; Skills; St. Mary's College of Maryland; Study abroad; Traveling; University of the Gambia; Volunteering

Subjects: International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Universities and colleges; Voluntarism; Volunteer workers in community development; Volunteer workers in community health services; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
GPS: Republic of The Gambia
Map Coordinates: 13.466667, -16.6
GPS: St. Mary's College of Maryland
Map Coordinates: 38.186666, -76.43094
GPS: University of the Gambia
Map Coordinates: 13.457222, -16.685556
00:03:48 - Application process

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Partial Transcript: So, you joined the Peace Corps right out of college?

Segment Synopsis: After college graduation, Kerr applied to the Peace Corps and expressed a preference for Africa. Kerr traveled around Western Europe for a year and a half and was finally offered and accepted a posting in Lesotho.

Keywords: Applications; Applying; Letters; Peace Corps interviews; Telephone calls; Traveling; Waiting periods

Subjects: Africa; International travel; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Voluntarism; Volunteers; Western Europe

GPS: Western Europe
Map Coordinates: 42.7763477, -16.7450743
GPS: Africa
Map Coordinates: 1.7313126, -16.5876672
GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
00:06:01 - Reactions to him joining Peace Corps

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Partial Transcript: Good. And what was your reaction when you found out you were going to Lesotho?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr was not familiar with Lesotho. Prized items which Kerr packed included boots, a Swiss army knife, and a small computer. Kerr's family and friends expressed some apprehension about his joining the Peace Corps but were generally supportive.

Keywords: Anxiety; Belongings; Clothing; Excited; Family; Friends; Preparation; Questions; Support networks; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; International travel; Lesotho; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Scotland; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
GPS: Scotland
Map Coordinates: 57, -4
00:10:23 - Pre-service training

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Partial Transcript: So, what was training like?

Segment Synopsis: Pre-service training for Kerr's cohort of 30 trainees was in 3 villages close to Maseru. Kerr found much of the cultural training too classroom-centered and academic. This caused frustration. During training, Kerr lived with a host family. Kerr found his host mother intimidating because of her manner and their lack of communication. The trainees bonded with each other. Kerr feels that the pre-service training was broad but inadequate.

Keywords: Anxiety; Cohorts; Criticism; English (Language); Host family; Host fathers; Host mothers; Lack of communication; Language barriers; Language training; Lectures; Maseru (Lesotho); National languages; Safety; Sesotho (Language); Socializing; Stereotypes; Villages

Subjects: Emotions; Health; Interpersonal relations; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; South Africa; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Maseru (Lesotho)
Map Coordinates: -29.31, 27.48
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
00:17:37 - Language fluency

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. How was, how was your language acquisition?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr discusses his growing native language fluency. He hired a tutor after pre-service training and carried a notebook to record new vocabulary.

Keywords: Conversations; Language Proficiency Index; Language skills; Language training; Learning; Socializing

Subjects: Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Tutors and tutoring; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:19:29 - Assignment in Lesotho

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Partial Transcript: So, towards the end of training, I assume you, you learned exactly where you were going and what you were going to do.

Segment Synopsis: Kerr was assigned to a remote mountain village. It took around 8 hours by public van to get there from the capital, although the road was mostly paved thanks to an earlier dam construction project. Kerr developed a medical problem with his foot and needed to travel back to the capital and go to a hospital for treatment.

Keywords: Challenging; Distance; Doctors; Illness; Medical challenges; Rural areas; Safety; Sickness; Transportation; Travel; Traveling; Villages

Subjects: Health; Hospitals; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:27:46 - Arrival and integration

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Partial Transcript: So, tell me about arriving in the village and getting integrated into it and how you figured out how to make the connections you needed to do and, and do your work.

Segment Synopsis: Kerr lived with a host family. Kerr's counterpart, his host father, was very energetic and spoke English but had no organized plan for projects or supporting workforce. A piece of advice which Kerr found useful was to first learn about the community and not focus on projects. Kerr's host father introduced him to many of the local people of importance. Kerr describes his host family and housing. Kerr is very thankful that his host family looked after him. Kerr's host family had a solar panel but Kerr did not have running water, electricity, or convenient internet access.

Keywords: Advice; Amenities; Counterparts; First impressions; Host family; Host fathers; Housing; Isolation; Living situation; Local people; Locals; Relationships; Running water; Site visits; Social media; Technology; Villages

Subjects: Emotions; Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:35:55 - Projects

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Partial Transcript: So, what are some of the projects that you did?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr started a youth group with about 10 members which held weekly meetings. Topics they discussed included safe sex. Using his lifeguard experience, Kerr ran a swimming and boat safety program for local fishermen.

Keywords: Activities; Conversations; Deaths; Disease transmission; Fears; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Impact; Improvements; Safety; Youth development

Subjects: Emotions; Health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:41:37 - Proudest accomplishment

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Partial Transcript: Is that what you're most proud of ? What, what would you say you're most proud of, of your time there?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr helped to organize and start a business teaching computer skills. Kerr introduced word processing at the local school and got the parents interested in taking computer classes which, in turn, opened up new opportunities for them.

Keywords: Activities; Career paths; Changes; Conservation; Education programs; Empowerment; Grants; Host fathers; Improvements; Jobs; Skills; Technology; Villages

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Schools; Small business; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:47:55 - Murder of site mate

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Partial Transcript: What would you say was the most unusual thing that happened to you in Lesotho?

Segment Synopsis: Early during Kerr's service, his site mate was murdered. Kerr's site mate was gunned down in the capital. Subsequently, a number of other Volunteers chose to return home and evacuation of all Volunteers in-country was considered. Kerr's parents respected his decision to remain at his work site. Kerr and his mother spoke by phone weekly.

Keywords: Deaths; Decisions; Impact; Leaving; News; Quitting; Reactions; Returning; Site mates; Telephone calls; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Evacuation; Lesotho; Parents; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Violence; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
00:53:08 - Favorite personal memories

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Partial Transcript: Outside of your projects, what is your best memory from Lesotho?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr became good friends with 2 boys in the community and they spent a lot of time together. Kerr recounts a ride in a pickup truck where he rode along with a bull and other animals during a rainstorm. Kerr hired someone to teach him how to slaughter and butcher animals.

Keywords: Food; Friends; Learning; Mothers; Parties; Transportation; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Lesotho; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Lesotho
Map Coordinates: -29.6, 28.3
01:00:14 - Mother's visit

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Partial Transcript: So what was it like having your mom visit?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr took vacation and traveled 2 days to Johannesburg by taxi where he picked up his mother at the airport. Kerr and his mother went on safari in South Africa. Then, they rented a car and drove to Kerr's work site. Later, they drove to Cape Town from where Kerr's mother flew home and Kerr bused back to his village.

Keywords: Cape Town (South Africa); Home; Johannesburg (South Africa); Parties; Self-confidence; Taxi; Tourism; Tourists; Transportation; Traveling

Subjects: International travel; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; South Africa; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Johannesburg (South Africa)
Map Coordinates: -26.204444, 28.045556
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
GPS: Cape Town (South Africa)
Map Coordinates: -33.925278, 18.423889
01:02:48 - Difficult times

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Partial Transcript: Was there any really hard time for you? It sounds like the murder was a hard time. Was there any other time?

Segment Synopsis: Kerr mentions some social relationships which turned out poorly from his viewpoint. Kerr experienced some racial harassment. Partly because of the murder of his site mate, Kerr chose to socialize less with other Volunteers.

Keywords: Choices; Racial discrimination; Safety; Site mates; Socializing

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Mental health; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Race relations; Relationships; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:06:03 - Final 6 months of service

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Partial Transcript: As your time grew short, what was it like getting ready to leave? What feelings did you go through? What was that ending process like for you?

Segment Synopsis: During his last 6 months, Kerr focused on helping his host father to be capable of sustaining the computer business.

Keywords: Driving; Host fathers; Leaving; Privilege; Relationships; Sustainability; Travel; Traveling

Subjects: Emotions; Finance; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Small business--Developing countries; Small business--Management; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers

01:10:26 - Coming home

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Partial Transcript: So what was it like coming home for you?

Segment Synopsis: At the end of his service, Kerr traveled for 6 months overland from South Africa to Dar es Salaam. This included Kerr's spending a month traveling in Malawi with a friend who was a Volunteer there. Eventually, Kerr returned to his mother's home and got a job as a swim coach.

Keywords: Close of Service; Dar es Salaam (Tanzania); Distance; Friends; Illness; Re-entry; Readjustment; Sickness; Transportation; Traveling; Victoria Falls

Subjects: Culture shock; Health; International travel; Malawi; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; South Africa; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
GPS: Malawi
Map Coordinates: -13.5, 34
GPS: Victoria Falls
Map Coordinates: -17.924444, 25.856667
GPS: Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
Map Coordinates: -6.8, 39.283333
GPS: Los Angeles (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 34.05, -118.25
GPS: San Francisco (Calif.)
Map Coordinates: 37.7775, -122.416389
01:14:13 - Impact of Peace Corps service

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Partial Transcript: What, what kind of career did you eventually work into? How, how has your Peace Corps experience informed what's happened since you've returned?

Segment Synopsis: Now, Kerr works for a health and fitness chain. Kerr is an aquatics assistant manager. Kerr teaches kids to swim and trains lifeguards and swim instructors. Kerr reflects that his Peace Corps experience taught him not to be self-conscious. Kerr is also more empathetic and patient. Kerr encourages people to stretch their comfort zone.

Keywords: Advice; Challenges; Changes; Comfort zones; Diversity; Kids; Patience; Personal growth; Perspectives; Travel

Subjects: Conflict management; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Lesotho; Teaching; Voluntarism; Volunteers