JanPlans bring civic engagement abroad
As the College community ushered in the new semester last week, it also welcomed back many students who were abroad for the JanPlan.
Karen Clark ’12 spent her JanPlan in Malawi, a country, she said, that is often referred to as “the warm heart of Africa.” Clark went to Malawi on behalf of World Camp, Inc., an international non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that educates impoverished communities about HIV/AIDS, deforestation and other health and environmental issues.
This kind of work is nothing new to Clark, who has spent every JanPlan and summer break in Malawi since her sophomore year. She works with the same staff, but at different schools each year. Clark typically works with sixth, seventh and eighth grade students who range from ages 10 to 18.
One aspect of her work involves educating students and teachers about HIV in order to promote health and combat the stigma surrounding the virus. Clark taught students, “If your friend gets HIV, that doesn’t mean you can’t play with them anymore.”
Another aspect of Clark’s work involved education about deforestation. The program’s goal was not to put an end to deforestation, as most people from the community depend on trees for firewood, but rather to encourage sustainable practices.
Clark said that her experience in Malawi made her “more aware of disparities between our life and theirs,” especially in terms of access to health care, clean water and education. She hopes to return for a full year after graduation to continue her work with World Camp, Inc. Clark was not alone in Malawi. Staying just down the road was Hillary Sapanski ’13, who was working with the Face to Face AIDS Project, which operates in conjunction with LuziCare to help impoverished communities become economically self-sufficient. The organization accomplishes this by implementing holistic community development projects in poor, HIV-stricken areas.
Clark and Sapanski worked in similar conditions, though their experiences were quite different. While Clark traveled around the country working with adolescents and teachers in schools, Sapanski worked mostly with youth group leaders and older residents in the rural town of Chadika. Sapanski’s purpose in Chadika was to get to know its people. She originally planned to interview about 15 of them but ended up interviewing over 70. “They’re such great people,” Sapanski said, acknowledging the vast number who voluntarily came forward to share their stories.
Sapanski said the people she met were exceptionally energetic and happy. Despite their struggle with poverty, malnutrition and disease, “something is going right in that community…They’re so enthusiastic and will take the initiative [to achieve self-sufficiency],” she said. While Clark and Sapanski were working in Malawi, another Colby student was doing research in the capital of Chile. Katy Wassam ’12, a Latin American Studies major, conducted interviews for her honors thesis on Chilean political exiles.
Between 1973 and 1990, General Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile targeted tens of thousands of people for their political beliefs, many of whom were killed, kidnapped or exiled. Many exiles returned to Chile after the country reestablished a constitutional democracy in 1990. Wassam’s purpose in Chile was to interview exiles about their experiences reintegrating into Chilean society. She said that, “Everyone [in Chile] has some family member that was affected,” and that the people she interviewed were very willing to talk about their experiences.
Much like the youth Sapanski interviewed in Malawi, the people Wassam met “want[ed] to get their stories out there.” Wassam said that after returning to Chile, many people felt frustrated by how much their culture and relationships had changed. Despite their frustration, Wassam said that many former exiles are happy with their decision to return to their homeland. Although re-acclimation is extremely difficult, “they’d rather be in Chile than anywhere else,” she said.
Wassam hopes to translate her thesis into Spanish someday to make it linguistically accessible to the interviewees who helped make this her “best JanPlan ever.”