Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with World Camp For Kids in Malawi?
Jay: In 2008 I was a casualty of the economic downturn in America. My practice at work did massive layoffs and I suddenly found myself without a job. I was sitting at home watching a Madonna concert special (stop laughing) and on the screen she flashed a link to her charity Raising Malawi.
Intrigued I went to the website which had a link for World Camp, which at the time was partnering with her charity. After reading about World Camp I knew I had to volunteer - I had done five summers as a Camp Counselor with Camp Hope - a camp for HIV positive children - and knew this would be an extension of that great experience.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Jay: Wake up and have breakfast as a group. Get in our Jeep and drive to a remote village to teach for the day. Teach until about 3 PM and drive back to our home in the capitol, Lilongwe. Unwind before dinner with a group activity like swimming or shopping in the market.
Dinner as a group, then "Reflection" which was a nightly recap in which we all openly discussed our day, our challenges, and our triumphs. Go to bed, then wake up the next morning and do it all over again. We worked for three days, then had a day off, then started over again. 3 on / 1 off.
Tell me about one person you met.
Jay: I'd like to tell you about three.
Administrator - Jesse Pipes: Jesse is one of the founders of World Camp. Jesse is only a few years older than me, but an old soul. If I had an older brother, I would want it to be Jesse - he is kind, he is patient, but he also speaks his mind and is honest. Jesse asked me to join the Board of Directors after I returned to the U.S. and constantly sought me out to bounce ideas off of me, etc. Jesse made an effort to keep me engaged after the volunteer process so that I still was connected to the organization.
Fellow Volunteer - Jessica Dodson: Jessica was a sophomore or junior in college when we volunteered together (I was 26). Jessica comes from small-town Virginia and had never left the country before. Despite this she jumped in with both feet and was an inspiration to watch. She displayed maturity and confidence in everything she did - from teaching to mountain climbing on our off days to staying on "home stay" in a village with families we had never met before. We don't talk that often anymore, but I consider her a lifelong friend.
Translator - Jacqueline Kaongosora: a native Malawian and Chichewa speaker, Jackie served as one of my translators in the classroom. She was a college student in Uganda and would come home to Malawi on breaks, making money by translating for World Camp. Jackie did everything she could to teach us about Malawian culture and never batted an eyelash when we asked stupid questions or made cultural faux-pas.
I haven't been back to Malawi or seen Jackie in almost 6 years, but we still talk regularly on Facebook. She's an amazing person who is self-made and works tirelessly to make a better life for herself. I wish there was a way I could bring her to the U.S.
What was the best moment of the entire trip?
Jay: One of the extracurricular activities we could participate in was feeding and holding babies at the Crisis Nursery. The Crisis Nursery is a home that newborns live in if their mothers have died or if they are orphaned. When they are old enough to not need constant care they either go to an orphanage or back to their families (if they have any family that can care for them).
I used to go and feed an 8 month old baby named Mpatso. His name means "Gift from God" in Chichewa. One day I came to the Nursery to feed and hold the babies and Mpatso was gone. His father was able to care for him and so he returned to his village. I was so happy for him that he wouldn't end up in an orphanage, but also so sad that I wouldn't see him anymore.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Jay: I used to only care about work; I never felt like a relationship was in my future. I think seeing the abject poverty in Malawi the way I did really made me realize all you have is family. When I returned to the U.S. I left Chicago (where I had lived for 9 years) and moved home to Texas to be closer to my family. I also met someone and got married a year and a half ago. We are currently in the process of adopting two children. I am not sure this would have ever happened had I not participated in World Camp.