Graduate Student Takes His Mission to Help Youth to Africa Through the Peace Corps
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
After commencement, Thomas Lafferty ’17 (M.S.) is looking forward to working with at-risk youth when he’ll have his Saint Joseph’s master’s degree in criminal justice firmly in hand. As a Philadelphia youngster who often felt “belittled by adults and teachers because of my tendency to misbehave,” Lafferty says he knows something of the phenomenon.
The Holy Family University alumnus will be a youth development volunteer for the Peace Corps in Africa and for 27 months, will focus on helping young people to improve their educational opportunities and encouraging them to make healthy lifestyle choices. He’ll also teach English, prepare some of the older kids for the rigors of finding a job or applying to college, and will help all of them to develop effective life skills. More specifically, he’ll combat gender inequality by empowering girls, and will also work with orphans and other vulnerable children.
To accomplish this mission, he’s been learning a new language. He’s expected to be proficient in siSwati by the time he gets on a plane on June 14 and travels thousands of miles to Swaziland, one of Africa’s smallest countries, which is found in the continent’s south-eastern quadrant, landlocked between the Republic of South Africa and Mozambique.
The challenges the people of Swaziland face — slow economic growth, high unemployment rates, high rates of inequality and poverty — will become his own.
“My specific appointment details — location, position, etc. — have not yet been disclosed,” says Lafferty. “They’ll be decided during the staging process.”
Undaunted by this uncertainty, Lafferty is sure of one thing: His Saint Joseph’s education has prepared him well for the next stage of his life.
“Since August of 2015 SJU’s Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice has been my home,” says Lafferty. “The faculty are the most prestigious group of individuals I have ever worked with, and the program has allowed me to hone my research and writing skills. These tools will be important when I’m teaching English and preparing secondary school students for college.”
Lafferty adds that his work with the World Affairs Council’s Global Smarts Mentoring Program, a partnership between SJU and the Council, also prepared him for his Peace Corps placement. The volunteer work called for the weekly classroom instruction of six Gesu middle school students. His group successfully represented Kenya at the Jr. Model United Nations debate conference held at Temple University last spring.
“I joined the program because I knew it would give me experience in youth development and because I enjoy teaching children,” he says.
During the last two years, Lafferty also worked as a graduate assistant for Susan Clampet-Lundquist, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, primarily with her Social Problems class.
“I have no doubt that Tom will do well working with youth in Swaziland, because he has always seemed willing to jump into new experiences, like being a mentor for the Global Smarts program,” she says. “I think that what facilitates his ability to connect with people from backgrounds different from his own is his attentive listening skills and his willingness to see things from other perspectives.”
With his focus now trained on Swaziland — and his compassion for marginalized youth in gear — Lafferty is ready and willing to take on new challenges and gain new perspectives.
“Most importantly, though,” he says, “volunteering with the Peace Corps will allow me to do what I love most: work with children on a consistent basis, helping them develop essential skills.”