SJR State Press Release
Africa trip proves to be lesson in perspectives for SJR State students
In America, an education can mean many things to many people - from personal enrichment to dreams fulfilled; it can open doors to new job opportunities or career advancements; however, SJR State graduate Josie Brown has learned that for the children in Zambia, Africa, an education means only one thing - escape.
"Learning is their way out of poverty," Brown said.
This year, St. Johns River State College students and faculty teamed up with members of the non-profit organization WISE (Women's Initiatives that Strengthen and Empower) to keep education a reality for the village orphans with "Project Zambia."
As one of their service projects, the St. Augustine campus Phi Theta Kappa chapter members (Alpha Xi Eta) collected various donations during College drives and personally delivered the school and medical supplies, as well as 200 pairs of flip flops, to the orphanage.
According to SJR State chemistry professor and PTK advisor Nell Freeman, volunteers spent two weeks this summer teaching at the schools, making rounds with the physician at the health facility and working with 130 orphans. "We assisted the orphanage by tutoring, reading to, playing with and simply loving the children," Freeman said.
Project Zambia also includes sponsoring tuition for eight students to attend high school, as free public education ends at the eighth grade, according to Freeman.
While the project was created to benefit Kaoma (a small village in Zambia) and show the children that there is something higher to aspire to, the lessons learned during the trip were twofold. SJR State graduate Mark Lechak suddenly found himself 19 pounds lighter and re-evaluating his own experiences and expectations and "no longer making hasty opinions about people or situations," he said.
"The more you look for differences in people, the more similarities you will find," Lechak said. "Everywhere you go, kids are the same. If you close your eyes and ignore the language, they all make the same sound - the laughter, those high-pitch sounds of delight."
Lechak said the PTK chapter's mission to Zambia is never to reshape, but rather to give them the tools and the opportunities to shape themselves. "A tiny show of affection means so much," he said. "If only we could do enough tiny things."
Lechak understands firsthand that education is the key to opportunity. The 49-year-old has earned two degrees from SJR State and plans to enroll in the College's bachelor's degree program next year. "Education is the tool," he said. "So much has already changed from our examples."
According to Lechak, the children do differ than others in that their heroes are not athletes or rock stars, but rather, doctors and teachers. "It is an environment where they are honestly working for a better life, not material items, but for a better life," he said.
While the orphans may lack for school supplies, Lechak said they are rich in their generosity of spirit. "No one has enough, but they make sure they all have the same amount," Lechak said. "They don't want to get ahead if it means someone gets left behind."
Lechak said he is often asked why so much attention is given to foreign countries. His answer is as big as his heart. "It is our global responsibility to help those in need," he said. "I refuse to accept the fact that the human heart isn't capable of caring for more than one thing at a time."
Professor Freeman made her first trip to Zambia in 2010 and still refers to it as the trip where she fell in love - in love with a village, in love with the children and in love with a cause.
While many people who enter into an orphan sponsorship realize the chances of actually meeting the child they are sponsoring are slim, Freeman met her sponsored student last year and said the meeting was one of "joy and tears."
This year, Freeman conducted science experiments with the students, experiments they could only read about until now. "They are so hungry for knowledge and affection," Freeman said. "It is our goal to return next year with more supplies, more teachings and more love."
In addition to clothing, books, pens and sponsorships, PTK members are seeking additional volunteers and donors to assemble medical supplies for the 2012 trip. Items needed include gloves, masks, syringes, soaps and cotton balls.
For more information on "Project Zambia," call (904) 808-7443.
St. Johns River State College was established in 1958 as a public institution serving Putnam, Clay and St. Johns counties. SJR State serves approximately 11,000 students and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award associate and baccalaureate degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of St. Johns River State College.
SJR State professor Nell Freeman delivers a lesson in science to students in Zambia, Africa. "Project Zambia" is one of the Phi Theta Kappa chapter's service projects. "We assisted the orphanage by tutoring, reading to, playing with and simply loving the children," Freeman said.
SJR State professor Nell Freeman (standing, center) makes a presentation to a African orphanage during the annual "Project Zambia" trip. To her left are SJR State graduates Josie Brown and Mark Lechak. As one of their service projects, the St. Augustine campus Phi Theta Kappa chapter members personally delivered the school and medical supplies to the 130 orphans.
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