Keeping the Peace
Published 12:31 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Most new college graduates immediately begin pounding the pavement to search out job opportunities, but 23-year-old Andalusia native John L. Croft has opted to spend the next 27 months abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, a country in the southern part of Africa.
Croft will depart for Malawi on Friday to begin pre-service training as an education Peace Corps volunteer. Upon graduation from volunteer training in December, Croft will teach physical science, math and biology in Malawi’s secondary schools.
”Malawi is one of the most densely populated areas in Africa,” Croft said. “It is a very poor, Third World country with approximately 12 million people. Most of its income is agriculturally-based with crops like tobacco and tea leaves.”
Croft, who graduated from Andalusia High School in 2004 and from Birmingham-Southern College in 2008 with a degree in chemistry, said he chose the assignment because he wishes to pursue teaching as a lifelong career.
“I will be teaching in the secondary school program,” he said. “The program is essentially a network of private schools that were established across the country that were created after the establishment of the primary school system back in 1994 when Malawi became a multi-party democracy.”
During the first three months of his service, Croft will live with a host family in Malawi to become fully immersed in the country’s language, known as Chichewan, and culture. After acquiring the language and cultural skills necessary to assist his community, Croft will serve for two years in Malawi, living in a manner similar to people in his host country.
“Part of the 10 weeks will help to prepare me for this lifestyle,” Croft said. “I will learn how to cook and communicate with people within the community. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to grow a garden and have some chickens. I have all of these grand ideas of what I will be able to do.
“The part of Africa I am going to is really poor,” he said. “There is a lot of petty theft because it is so poor, but the people are really nice. Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa.”
Croft said that the two years after leaving his host family will be a bit of an adventure.
“After training I will be assigned a village with a community day school,” he said. “I will be assigned a house in that village without running water or electricity. I will have an outside kitchen area and I will cook all of my meals over a fire. I will have an outside latrine. It is like camping for two years.”
According to Croft, high school is much different for students who live in villages like Malawi, and not all children are afforded the opportunity of secondary education.
”These kids pay their own private fees to go to these schools,” he said. “Many kids do not have the money to attend these schools. You often see kids selling trinkets they have made to help pay for school fees. It is a definitely a privilege for students to go to high school.
“The main difference in the British system of education is that people who are interested in a career in the sciences will take a high number of science classes and the same for the humanities side of the spectrum,” he added. “It is much more directed toward your intended career.”
Croft said he will either take the place of a Malawian teacher who is leaving to receive more training to bring back to the community, or to take the place of another volunteer who is coming back to the U.S.
“I will also incorporate HIV/AIDS education in the classroom and help students understand the science behind it,” Croft said. “There is a lot of gender empowerment for women, women’s rights and making sure that women are seen as equals in the classroom.”
Croft said this will be his second trip to southern Africa. He took his first trip while studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He hopes the initial experience has helped him pack properly for his upcoming extended stay.
“When you pack for a place like Malawi you just keep in mind that many things you are used to have no use there,” he said. “A lot of the nice things like non-stick frying pans. My iPod is not necessary, but I am taking it.”
Croft said he plans to use a solar powered recharging device created by Solio. The company’s Web site, www.solio.com, states that one hour of sun equals 15 minutes of talk time or 40 minutes of MP3 music.
What other amenities will Croft miss while away in Africa for the next 27 months?
“I was eating out the other day and I was having stuffing,” he said. “I love stuffing mixed together with cranberry sauce. As I was eating I realized that it would be the last time for two Thanksgiving holidays that I would be able to enjoy stuffing. I also love pound cake and boiled peanuts. Those are my staples when I am home.”
Croft will maintain an online blog during his time away in Africa. Visit http://jlcroft.blogspot.com for periodic updates. For more information about the Peace Corps, including how to become a volunteer, visit www.peacecorps.gov.
Croft joins the 52 Alabama residents currently serving in the Peace Corps. More than 940 Alabama residents have served in the Peace Corps since 1961. He is the son of John and Rozilyn Croft of Andalusia.