Bit by bit, Seton Keough grad changes Zambian village

Joan Dunn thought she was prepared for life in Kashima West, a remote part of the northwestern province of Zambia, Africa. Reading about Third World nations and viewing pictures of people who are starving and living in impoverished conditions is one thing – seeing the reality of their situation is another.

A beautiful country known for its rich culture, big sky and great game viewing, Zambia is known as the “friendly country,” full of warm and generous people. With 70 tribes, it is one of only two countries never to have engaged in Civil War.

It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, with life expectancy at only 35 years and falling; HIV is a pervasive problem.

In December, Mrs. Dunn traveled to Zambia to see firsthand the mission work of her 23-year-old daughter Caitlin, a Peace Corps volunteer tackling a villager’s simple life without running water and electricity.

“It was quite an experience,” said Mrs. Dunn, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist, Severna Park. “They spend most of their time on just subsistence activities. But they seem to have a joyful spirit and a strong desire to learn and to improve their lot in life.”

The Africans of Kashima West weren’t sure what to make of the strong-willed, red-haired young American sent to them in September, said her mother. Caitlin has been in Africa for 15 months.

“But from what I observed, Caitlin’s enthusiasm and her dream of a better life for them seems to have sparked something in the community.”

The 2002 alumna of The Seton Keough High School, Baltimore, primarily focuses on rural education development in her role as liaison between the ministry of education and the zonal head school.

“I ride around on my bike a lot to monitor and evaluate schools in the zone,” she wrote in a letter to family and friends to describe her cause. “I work with teachers to train them on the latest methodologies, hold professional development meetings and offer encouragement and advice wherever I can.”

She also tells communities about the importance of education, explaining to parents their responsibilities in helping their children succeed.

Outside of school, the volunteer helps youths build life skills on topics such as confidence and self-esteem, planning for the future, business skills and health issues.

Through a Peace Corps partnership program, Caitlin is helping the Kashima community take a step forward with the development of a community resource center. The structure will have a lending library, teachers’ resource center and a youth wing.

“Believe me, knowing Caitlin, there will be a library,” said her mom. Her daughter is halfway to her $20,000 goal.

Illiterate children are being passed from grade to grade. There is a pure lack of materials, Caitlin said, so “how can one be expected to learn to read without books?”

Children are sent home after school to families that don’t understand the value of education because they weren’t educated themselves, thus children often are put to work in the fields.

“This project is not about the building as much as it is about what will take place inside of it,” said Caitlin.

Often feeling overwhelmed by the poverty, the young girl said she has great hope for the future.

“The saddest part of my job is seeing kids full of potential who want to learn and better themselves, but they can’t simply because they lack opportunities.”

Only in the continent for another year, it is Caitlin’s vision to see the center completed and utilized before she heads home.

In the KiKaonde language, which Caitlin uses to communicate with the villagers, “pace a pace” means “bit by bit” – the technique one determined young lady is using to help change circumstances for one small village on the other side of the world.

Interested donors can visit www.peacecorps.gov; click “Donate Now,” then “Donate to Volunteer Projects,” page down to last item: Zambia/zonal resource center, C.Dunn/MD; or call 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2170.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.