When University of Wisconsin alumnus Cam Stanley received his Peace Corps package saying he had been accepted to teach in Malawi, his first thought was “What’s a Malawi?” Then, upon hearing the news, Stanley’s dad said “Yeah, you’re going to Hawaii!”
Stanley has been serving in Malawi with the Peace Corps since 2011 and expects to work in the small African nation until August. After he heard that UW was named as the top school for Peace Corps participation, Stanley said he was glad to be representing the Badgers as a teacher in Malawi.
“I think it’s cool. I think it’s something to be proud of for sure that graduates from Wisconsin feel the need or want to help other places in the world,” Stanley said.
He said he wanted to join the Peace Corps because he felt a little guilty about the privileges he had growing up in Wisconsin and having access to education that many people around the world do not.
Stanley majored in education while at UW. His first choice for his location was Africa and he said he was glad when he heard he was placed in Malawi.
Stanley teaches two different classes, one with 90 students and one with 40. He said he faces challenges with teaching at the remote school because the classrooms lack technology and have limited materials.
He said another reason it is more challenging is because students in Malawi are required to pass the national test if they want to do well in the future.
“In one of the classes I’m teaching, we had one copy of the book. The only way we could read the stories was to read it out loud or pass the book around. It’s difficult,” Stanley said.
Along with having limited materials, Stanley said the large class sizes makes it difficult to reach all the students. He said some students show up to class eager to learn, but many sit in the back, chatting and causing distractions for everyone.
One of the biggest differences Stanley has experienced in Malawi is that of being a minority as a white man. Coming from Wisconsin, Stanley was not used to suddenly being the only white person around for miles.
Stanley said many people in his community have never seen a white person and sometimes people stop and stare at him.
Another part of the culture in Malawi that Stanley has learned about is superstition, and he said people in Malawi believe in charms and spirits.
There was a time when Stanley lost his iPhone and was devastated because it was his lifeline to friends and family back home.
“I told one of my fellow teachers about it and he said I’m going to find your phone, I’m going to set up charms around the area and get it back. So he did that,” Stanley said. “Maybe it was the charms, maybe it was the poster I stapled to the tree that said please bring my phone back but a week later, I woke up and my phone was sitting on my porch.”
Stanley said he has felt very welcome in the community and has been able to make meaningful connections with other teachers and students he works with. He said he has heard horror stories about volunteers that do not have great experiences with teachers or bosses, but he said his experience has been positive.