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Peaceful Ambitions

Date: 8/6/2013



Each year, malaria kills 12 of every 1,000 Ugandans, including 16 percent of children under the age of 5. In 2011, the Peace Corps launched an initiative called Stomping Out Malaria in Africa that seeks to eradicate the disease by 2015.

It’s an ambitious goal. And to achieve it, the Peace Corps is going to need more recruits like Kate Roesch ’12.

Roesch, an elementary education graduate, has been in the Ugandan city of Mbale since November, educating college students on how to teach primary school children. She wasted no time in applying her talents to an anti-malaria crusade, compiling a book with treatments and tools, including medicines and mosquito-net hammocks.

Her “big book” was distributed in April during Malaria Awareness Month, a “very cool” coup for a young American new to Africa. For even more exposure, her students also took part in a two-week- long malaria scavenger hunt created by Roesch.

Malaria is “very preventable,” says Roesch from a Mbale café with an Internet connection strong enough for a Skype conversation. “Once people have that knowledge, they have the power. But there has to be 100 percent participation. One sick person can spread a lot of sickness.”

Her main job in Mbale is teaching science courses at a government school, ranging from Electricity and Magnetism to “The World of Living Things.” She didn’t know she would also be teaching a computer class, but as it turns out, the art of surprise and flexibility are Peace Corps staples. Luckily for her, her lessons have been popular and include practical tips like turning the computer on and off; creating a document and typing as accurately as possible.

In addition to aiding the campaign to stomp out malaria, Roesch also is trying to boost Uganda’s literacy rate, which is 73 percent among those 15 and older. Roesch and her site partner, Eric, have been teaching the building blocks of visual language — sounds, shapes, meanings and associations — by reading aloud. She is even planning a workshop on the topic for future use. Her goal is to get her students, and their students, “to not just memorize, but really think critically.”

And as if teaching college students and combating malaria and illiteracy aren’t enough, Roesch also hopes to work in the arts and crafts club extending a fondness for the area, confirmed by her nickname — “Krafty.” 

Either way, she’ll be working with the Integrated Production Skills (arts) tutor to create and teach instructional materials.

Roesch caught the volunteering bug from a high school ceramics teacher. At Alvernia she expanded her mission, serving at a food bank in York County, traveling to Ecuador with Rostro de Christo for an Alternative Break, and helping the nuns with their ongoing mission in the Dominican Republic. She did most of her good deeds at the South Reading Youth Initiative, a branch of Alvernia’s Holleran Center for Community Engagement. There she fell under the spell of an elementary school student with a hemi-powered personality.

“Jonathan was beyond energetic,” Roesch recalls. “He was a spunky, fun kid who was always making me laugh.”

Roesch helped Jonathan with his homework, classroom confidence and maturity.

“He was still crazy little Jonathan,” she says. “The difference was, he would stop and think before making a decision. It’s just a good example of the good that can happen when one person takes the time to say hello to a kid, or play a game or just sit and talk.”

At times, Roesch has felt like a kid in Uganda. She admits it’s a bit daunting teaching students close to her age how to teach students close to Jonathan’s age. What makes it trickier are the stares and comments she receives as a rare white person in an overwhelmingly black society. She’d be happy if she never heard “mzungu,” which translates politely as “foreigner” and less politely as “aimless wandering person.”

Good-natured kidding has made Roesch feel less like an outsider. She’s been ribbed for her skinny American diet (apparently, Ugandans eat heartier meals than spaghetti with garlic bread) and for her cooking misadventures on a cranky charcoal stove. “Oh man, that sigiri,” she says with a sigh and a laugh. “Let’s just say we made peace.” Let’s also say that she’s glad she has a gas stove.

Roesch’s American care packages include stimulating, soothing emails from Kathy McCord, an assistant professor of education at Alvernia and a mentor. These “reality checks” reinforce lessons she learned in such key McCord courses as Assessment and Evaluation.

After her Peace Corps hitch ends in 2015, Roesch doesn’t want to be a typical elementary school teacher. “It would just be too boring after teaching here,” she says. While she is considering teaching English at a Franciscan Sisters’ school in the Dominican Republic, she admits, “Whatever happens will be God’s decision. I know He has a plan for me.”

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