Croft returns from Peace Corps tour

Published 12:02 am Saturday, October 9, 2010

J ust call Andalusia’s Johnny Croft a man on a mission.

Croft, 25, a 2004 graduate of Andalusia High School just returned from at 24-month stint with the Peace Corps in Malawi, where he taught physical science, math, biology, English literature and life skills to ninth through 12 graders.

Croft said he chose the Peace Corps because he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next in his life.

“I was interested in doing something teaching-oriented, but I wasn’t ready to go to grad school yet or join the work force,” he said. “So I applied, and I was sent to Malawi to teach at a community day secondary school.”

Peace Corps service is a life-defining leadership experience. Since 1961, the Peace Corps has shared with the world America’s most precious resource – its people. Volunteers serve in 77 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Peace Corps Volunteers live, learn, and work with a community overseas for 27 months, providing technical assistance in six program areas: education, youth and community development, health, business and information and communications technology, agriculture and environment.

Before Croft was allowed to go to Malawi, he went through a training program, where he learned the culture by living with a host family.

Croft said the school had 120 students with nine teachers.

“The school I was at didn’t have many resources,” he said. “We basically only had erasers and chalk.”

However, Croft said the curricula was much more intense than the U.S.

“It was more of a college level,” he said. “It is based off an old British system.”

Croft said the challenging part about living in Malawi and teaching was that there are so many different languages.

“Chichewa is the main language,” he said. “I learned to communicate in Chitumbuka, and there are other smaller languages.”

Croft lived in a house next door to the school, and two students boarded with him.

“They helped me with the household chores,” he said. “And I fed them.”

The Malawian community was “incredibly friendly,” he said. “They live on less than $1 a day. They grow their own food – maize, beans, tomatoes and fish in the lake.

“The villagers sold large fish for $7 or $8, and I could make about four meals off of one,” he said. “We ate a lot of rice.”

Croft said the Malawian customs were a bit different than that of Americans.

“They have a different concept of sharing, taking and giving,” he said. “Living next to someone, I’d often find my good kitchen knife at my neighbor’s. They felt very comfortable borrowing. They didn’t feel they had to ask me directly.”

The Malawians also participated in “karibu,” which is Swahili for “welcome.”

“I would walk past a neighbor’s home and they would invite me to come over and eat,” he said. “And they are serious when they invite you.”

Overall, Croft said his experience was very enlightening.

“I gained a lot of experience in learning what to expect when working with other cultures,” he said. “I also learned to be more patient. I now hold a really high respect for other cultures.

“It’s different actually seeing a different group living their lives than just going their on vacation.”

Croft said since Malawi is an area that is developing, he learned how important it is for quality, universal education.

“I’m a big proponent of universal education,” he said.

So, what’ s on the horizon for Croft since he’s returned to Andalusia?

“Right now, I’m just relaxing and adjusting to American culture,” he said. “I’m applying for jobs, and I’m going to focus on going back to grad school.”

Croft said communities in Malawi are very close knit, often borrowing from one another and dining together.