|By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 - 9:37 pm: Edit Post|
Matthew Camp works in Peace Corps in South Africa
Matthew Camp works in Peace Corps in South Africa
Post employee, spouse venture to South Africa
Couple visits son on Peace Corps mission
Matthew Camp, 24, enjoys the first Christmas party ever in the Puma Langa village where he is fulfilling a two-year commitment to "Hope for Africa" as a Peace Corps worker.
Sgt. Kim Dooley
Bayonet assistant editor
To Greg Camp, executive vice president of the National Infantry Foundation, and his wife, Joanie, it was the opportunity of a lifetime for their son, Matthew - one that would offer him incomparable experiences and deep personal growth.
Matthew, 24, was preparing for his graduation from Georgia Tech in December 2001 when he felt the need to do something different and important before "getting settled into a regular routine with a regular job," Greg said. So, he began the arduous process of applying to and being accepted by the Peace Corps.
After months of anticipation and waiting tables at a local restaurant, he finally got the call - his assignment: a two-year commitment to work for the nongovernmental organization, Hope for Africa, in a tiny village in the province of Puma Langa in South Africa.
In June 2002, he packed his bags and began his adventure, one that Greg and Joanie were recently able to witness firsthand during a two-week visit to the village.
After nearly a year, the couple decided that it was important for them to journey to Africa. "We missed him and we love him," Greg said. "But we also wanted to see where he lives and meet the people that he's working with."
The only Peace Corps worker in his rural village, Matthew has three missions he hopes to fulfill during his tenure there. The first addresses a problem that has literally ravaged the country.
"He's developing a training program to teach people home-based care for those with AIDS," Greg said. "In a place where medical treatment is scarce, he trains people in the village so that they can learn to take care of relatives and friends with AIDS in their own homes." Greg said the program will also help people understand more about the disease.
Despite the large number of South Africans infected with the virus, Greg said there are numerous misconceptions and fears, and victims are often "treated like lepers used to be treated."
"He deals with people both infected and affected by this disease," Joanie said. "It's a very impressive program."
Both believe the program will have a great impact on the lives of both AIDS victims and their caretakers.
Matthew's second mission is to build a school that will primarily cater to orphans of AIDS victims. The school has already been built and currently has placed 40 students in four different classes, each a different grade.
"They are also going to build a dormitory for the orphans who go to the school," Greg said. "When they're finished, the dormitory will house 64 orphans."
His last project, one that is significant to both Matthew and the children of his village, will be to take 15 youths from South Africa and join with 15 youths from England and 15 from Mozambique, to build a playground and other "infrastructure" for the inhabitants of Mozambique, who suffered terrible damage and losses during considerable flooding last year. Despite the hard work and dedication required to fulfill his goals, Joanie said Matthew has adjusted rather well to his "new life" in Africa.
"He is so happy there," she said. "He's adapted to the community very well, and the community has adapted to him - he's very comfortable.
"It's impressive to see him working with the people, to see how much they like him. He just loves the kids, and they just come running to be around him whenever he's outside."
His quick adjustment to the community may have been helped by his living situation.
"He's living with an African family," said Greg, who added that he ended up getting more than he'd bargained for when disaster struck another family in the village. "The family's neighbors' house burned down two days after Christmas, and the neighbor family has been living with them since.
"So two families and my son are living in one house," he said.
While this may sound a bit cramped, Greg thinks it speaks volumes about the values of the village's people, values that have grown within his son.
"I was just struck by the good human relations and by how happy people are there," he said. "In the face of huge problems like unemployment, stark poverty and AIDS, people are still happy."
The experience deepened not only his respect for the village, but his appreciation of America. "The most significant thing that sticks with me is how unbelievably blessed we are - our family and our country," he said. "I was struck by how fortunate we are by luck of birth to be where we are."
"You see so much poverty, and yet people are still very happy," Joanie said. "They're losing a whole generation to AIDS, and yet they're coming to grips with that."
With his hands full with the projects on his agenda, Matthew hasn't had much opportunity to explore the country he's living in, said Greg, so the couple decided to take him on a trip that would enrich his experience even further.
"We went on a picture-taking safari and saw giraffes and zebras and lions. We went to Cape Town and climbed the Cape of Good Hope. We went to Victoria Falls, the Zambian side - it's one of the seven wonders of the world," he said.
While the family thoroughly enjoyed their trip together, Matthew's experiences in the village have definitely had a deep, lasting impact, Joanie said.
"I know it's been a hard adjustment for him at times, but it's also been very life-altering," she said. "He's learned to live without needing material things, to be comfortable and happy with what he has.
"He's learned patience, and he's certainly developed the giving aspect of his personality," she said. "He feels very good about what he's trying to do. We're very proud of him."
|By Matt Camp (te-64-146-54-66.transedge.com - 126.96.36.199) on Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - 7:32 pm: Edit Post|
Good work, Matthew.
I'm proud to share your name.
Matt Camp, L.A., CA