A million orphans: World Camp

The small southern-African nation of Malawi is considered one of the world’s most impoverished places. Apart from malnutrition due to lack of food, the country also suffers from an extremely high illiteracy rate and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that has left the country with an orphan population estimated at more than 1 million.

A giant leap: Louise Song dances with World Camp students in Malawi in 2006. The group often uses dance and movement in its lessons. Photo courtesy World Camp Inc.

Believing that education is essential to combating such problems, World Camp conducts classes for primary-school students in Malawi that address such thorny issues as HIV/AIDS. To date, the sectarian group has reached some 25,000 students, whose ages range widely, at 250 schools.

World Camp began nine years ago, when a group of 10 college students traveled the African continent researching teaching methods.

After meeting directly with various countries’ education ministers, that first group determined that Malawi was not only the area most receptive to their ideas but was also a safer place to operate than many parts of Africa.

“It turned out we were pretty much in line with the issues they thought were important to address,” says Laurel Jernigan, who operates the World Camp headquarters in downtown Asheville.

Tapping friends and relatives for startup money, the group made the first official World Camp trip in 2000. These days, the group’ s volunteers make regular trips to Malawi to conduct three-day classes. The money comes from a combination of grants and donations.

The classes, says Jernigan, include basic, game-based lessons about HIV, nutrition and, most recently, ecology (the latter in an effort to combat the deforestation that is ravaging the country).

Meanwhile, the organization is now also offering classes in India and Honduras, and more teachers sign up each year. World Camp keeps its volunteer roster full by drawing on the college-age crowd, maintaining a presence online via its own Facebook account and a link on Madonna’s Raising Malawi Web site.

“What is appealing to a lot of people is the fact that it’s a relatively young and small organization,” notes Jernigan. “They have an opportunity to have an effect on the organization.”

Info: World Camp Inc., 157 S. Lexington Ave. Suite B-1, Asheville NC 28801 (254-2339; www.worldcampforkids.org).

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