By Matt Killham. As a freshman at Christopher Newport University, I was very engaged in the volunteer spirit that was prevalent throughout the student body. The number of people willing to help out was only matched by the number of volunteering opportunities available. While some people tackled environmental sustainability or cancer research and awareness, my passion lied in human rights. In 2006, the war between rebels and the government of Sudan was claiming a remarkable number of civilian lives. While there were atrocities on both sides, the international community recognized and strongly condemned the government’s systematic targeting of civilian populations. The terrible stories that came out of Sudan inspired me to found the organization STAND at CNU.
I led the club as president until my senior year at CNU. Since its creation, STAND at CNU has been focused on raising awareness about ongoing genocides and human rights violations. We have achieved this goal by holding movie screenings, benefit concerts, and we’ve hosted many various speakers at our school. In addition, we have organized numerous fundraisers which have raised thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations such as Doctors without Borders and the Genocide Intervention Network. For the past seven years, STAND at CNU has been a strong advocate for individuals who have been involuntarily caught up in the conflicts of others.
I graduated CNU in 2010 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science. After seventeen years in a classroom, I decided to spend a year fulfilling my lifelong dreams. The first step was to pack up a car with a friend and spend three months traveling North America. Hopping from campsite to campsite, we visited over thirty states, in addition a short visit to Canada. Immediately following the journey, I accepted a low paying job as a ski lift operator. This position allowed me the opportunity to ski seven days a week, while enjoying everything that Utah had to offer.
After a year, I got serious again about my career prospects. After completing a TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) course, I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer in 2011. With one fellow volunteer, I created and implemented an educational summer program http://mentalhealthdrugs.com aimed at teaching recent Iraqi, Burmese, and Bhutanese refugees English and test taking skills to ease their transition into American public schools.
My AmeriCorps experience led me to accept an even bigger challenge. The bleak job prospects in America and my yearning desire to travel led me to accept a teaching position in Bangkok, Thailand. I moved to Bangkok on August 29, 2011 and began work immediately. Within two days of my arrival, I began teaching in a P2 (2nd grade) classroom at Patai Udom Suksa School. For two years, I taught English, Science, Math, and Health to ESL (English as a Second Language) learners. Near the end of my first year, I was promoted to be the Head of the International Department at the school. Within in this role, I oversaw the growth of 12 foreign teachers, conducted interviews, led staff meetings, and observed lessons on a regular basis. In addition, I conducted extra tutor sessions to help my weaker students catch up and to push my stronger students to excel. My time outside of the classroom was spent traveling throughout Southeast Asia. By the time I had left, I had visited seven different countries in the region, including Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
Almost two years to the day after arriving in Thailand, I was headed home. My time at home was short-lived, as I had already applied for and accepted to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer two months after my return. My lifelong dream to serve was fulfilled when I was offered the opportunity to be a Literacy Specialist in Central Uganda. Upon arriving in Africa, I was spent ten weeks learning the local language, customs, and job expectations with forty-two of my fellow volunteers. Following training, I moved to Kabulasoke, a small village with a population under 1000. The students will be returning to Kabulasoke Core Demonstration (Primary) School shortly and I will serve advisor and teacher at the school until 2016.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.