Alumni Spotlight: Karen Clark

Karen Clark is from Sunnyvale, California and graduated from Colby College in 2012 with a degree in anthropology. She loves to travel, row crew, and witness random acts of kindness. In 2010 she spent 4 weeks volunteering with World Camp, Inc. on what turned out to be a life-altering experience.

Why did you decide to volunteer with World Camp for Kids in Malawi?

World Camp for Kids in Malawi

Karen: I decided to volunteer with World Camp because I had little experience teaching but knew their detailed curriculum and thorough in-country orientation would prepare me for the classroom. And I was right - although I was a little nervous on the first day, I was felt like I’d been teaching for years by that first afternoon.

I also loved that volunteering with World Camp would give me exposure to both rural and urban Malawi. I knew World Camp would challenge me physically, mentally, academically, and emotionally and I couldn’t wait to have my beliefs, morals, and ideas directly challenged.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Karen: The majority of everyday is spent in the classroom, teaching rural students in Malawi about HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, and gender empowerment. Each lessons is fun, interactive, and exciting not just because of the way World Camp has laid out games and activities, but because each discussion and every response from students is new and different. Mornings and afternoons mostly revolve around preparing for camp, debriefing from camp, eating dinner, and resting as much as possible for the next day.

What made this experience unique and special?

World Camp for Kids in a classroom

Karen: World Camp’s volunteer program blended everything I could have hoped for in just the right way. Days in the classroom were challenging and more rewarding than I could have hoped. We spent time exploring Lilongwe, where we lived and Malawi’s capital, surrounding areas, and Lake Malawi to learn about Malawi’s history, people, culture, economy, and politics.

We also had just the right amount of off time that was filled with lunch at restaurants with life music, hiking trips, safari in Zambia, movie nights, nights out, and shopping trips to the local open-air markets.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Karen: My experience with World Camp reaffirmed my love for travel, pointed me toward anthropology as a major which was the best decision I made in college, convinced me to live abroad after graduating, validated my belief that education is always the best answer, and let me work directly toward improved education in rural Malawi.

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Morning: Most mornings I woke up at 6:30 for a quick run then came back by 7 for breakfast and to finish getting ready. By 7:45 all volunteers were outside to help load supplies and get ourselves situated in the Land Rovers for the drive out to schools.

The drives, which were always about an hour, were one of my favorite parts of volunteering. The rolling hills in Malawi, seemingly endless fields, and people walking along the road made any time in the car zoom by. From 9 to noon we were in the classroom teaching about HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation through games, activities, discussions, and science experiments.

Afternoon: After lunch, we were right back into the classroom. We broke up into classes of all girls or boys and tackled gender empowerment through discussions and interactive activities. Camp generally finished around 3pm and we were back to the house by 4:30 with plenty of time to debrief, rest, and prepare dinner.

Evening: Evenings in Malawi varied. Sometimes we had free time to do shopping in town or ate out at a restaurant. On other nights we would do a verbal evaluation of camp to debrief and brainstorm ideas for improvement. Other times we would watch a movie, play boa, the local board game, or just relax and chat.

Highlights: The highlight of my trip was doing a one-night homestay near the school we were teaching at that week. I learned so much about my students as they led me around the village all night letting me pump water and carry it on my head, showing me the best way to pound corn, and leading the group in songs and dances long after the sun had set.

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For me, the best moment in a classroom came during my third week of teaching. In Malawi, as in most places around the world, there is a large stigma attached to a positive HIV status. During camp that week, I sat in a circle with my students and talked about the dangers of stigma. I could see my kids making connections and realizing that not talking to someone who is positive, mocking someone for going to a clinic, and assuming someone who loses weight is HIV positive can negatively impact their community and school. I walked out of that classroom knowing that discussion changed the way my class thought about HIV and knowing that I did something, however small, to fight discrimination that day.