RCHS grad Camillia Freeland-Taylor assisting African village through Peace Corps
The children walk 9 miles a day to attend school, and there’s danger in crossing a large river. Having water year-round is a struggle, as well, for this village in Southern Africa.
Through the Peace Corps, Camillia Freeland-Taylor has come to understand this reality for the people in rural Zambia, where they are attempting to build a preschool. She has come a long way, too, since graduating from Rush City High School in 2008.
Freeland-Taylor, in a series of email messages to the Post Review, brought to light a culture in need of those things others may take for granted. For the preschool, they are trying to raise $5,000.
“The community (in the Zambian village) has put a lot of time and effort into planning, gathering pit and river sand, rocks and preparing bricks,” Freeland-Taylor said. “The people of this village are subsistence farmers and make very little money, so we are trying to put together some funds to buy cement and other materials. Please remember how blessed you were to have facilities to learn at a young age.”
Finding her path
Following high school, Freeland-Taylor focused on business and Chinese in completing her undergraduate studies at Concordia College-Moorhead, Minnesota. She decided to join the Peace Corps in February 2013 “for a chance to see the world, to experience new culture, help those in need and gain professional international experience,” she explained.
She also sought to figure out what she was doing with her life.
When asked about her early influences in Rush City, Freeland-Taylor recalled her high school history teacher Mr. Vaughn often using the word, “ethnocentrism,” meaning to judge another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture.
“He encouraged us to learn about other parts of the world, their way of life, beliefs and values, to see those things and people with an open mind,” she said.
In college Freeland-Taylor decided to study Mandarin Chinese and went on a six-month study abroad program in Chongqing, China. The travel bug hit her, and so did some realizations that put life into perspective.
“I came to realize how privileged my life was, and there were opportunities in my life and in people’s everyday lives to help people,” she said. “I wanted my life to have a bigger purpose. After all, when our life comes to an end, who are we if we haven’t loved.”
Wanted: A better education for their children
Ultimately, she decided on the Peace Corps and was placed in a small village in Southern Province, Zambia, where she found life to be challenging with “no running water, no electricity, people speaking in a bantu tribal language and no cheese,” she said. “My main form of transport was a bike and on seldom occasion I would get to ride in … the bed of a large truck crammed with maize, goats, chickens and people.”
Under Freeland-Taylor’s program, called Linking Income Food and Environment, or LIFE, her primary goals were teaching agroforestry, beekeeping, conservation farming, gardening, income generation and animal husbandry.
About a year later at the site, she asked her community about the most significant problems that affected their daily lives. The people had two answers: There wasn’t enough water year-round and they wanted a better, overall education for their children.
“We decided we should try to push for both projects,” said Freeland-Taylor, noting they are working with the local government on a dam for the water and writing a grant for the preschool. “The community has been the driving force this whole time; I’m just helping to guide them with some of the logistics. We just surveyed the land and are about to dig the foundation. We are currently just waiting on funds. With the onset of the rainy season fast approaching it’s prudent to be able to buy cement as soon as possible.”
She stressed, “The community is more invested and excited about this school than I ever could have imagined.”
Freeland-Taylor shared a taste of what the villagers have said about the project:
“It’s good to have a school because our children won’t have to walk so far to school (usually 6 to 8 kilometers one way), and they don’t have to worry about crossing the river during the rainy season, which is extremely dangerous. Right now we have no choice, but we are trying to change that through the new school,” said village headman Jethrow Siatubi.
“Because someone who is educated can do the right things in the future, you will be free and have no fear,” noted Darius Maponda, preschool committee member.
“I remember one time I went to the hospital and they gave me the wrong medicine. If I wasn’t educated I wouldn’t have been able to tell the medicine was meant for someone else and for a different problem. I was able to do so because of education. I want my children to have a better education and a chance at a brighter future,” said Julius Simombeh, fellow member of the preschool committee.
How to help
From the experience, the Rush City native has learned that although Zambian culture may be very different from American culture, she has found there are more similarities between the two.
“We want the same basic things: shelter, food, love and even a better life for our children,” Freeland-Taylor said.
She quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who once said, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing there will be no result,” to help explain what she and the community are trying to do with the preschool. “But we can’t do it alone,” she said.
To help in the preschool effort, visit https://donate.peacecorps.gov and type in “Freeland” to find the Magalela Preschool Grant or visit https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute. ojDetail&