Students travel to Africa to help a little, learn a lot

Lauren Laubach had never seen a child suffering from malaria before she traveled to Malawi with a team of USC students in a service-learning class. In a video for a charity’s website, the senior broadcast journalism major tells the story of a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with stage 3 malaria, a potentially fatal condition if not treated immediately.

Laubach met the boy while she was working with Ministry of Hope volunteers at a mobile medical clinic the USC students sponsored as part of their trip.

“The trip opened my eyes to how different life is in a Third World country,” the 22-year-old from Wayne, Pa., says. The people the Ministry of Hope helps live in poor conditions unlike anything the students would see in the U.S. "But they were still happy, friendly people. It really opened my eyes to how much we have in the United States. We really have too much.”

It is that sort of perspective and experience that USC journalism professors Van Kornegay and Scott Farrand were hoping for when they took their first class to Malawi this summer.

“On a professional level, they get to use their visual communications skills to tell stories that are really different than anything they would see here,” says Kornegay, chair of the visual communications sequence in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. “They also are telling the stories of people whose stories rarely get told.”

Kornegay has been traveling to Africa for years with Ministry of Hope, which is a Malawi-based nongovernment charity dedicated to helping the people of Malawi, especially orphans, with getting the bare essentials for a better life. He created and maintains the organization’s website to share these stories with potential volunteers and donors.

A lot of these people have never seen pictures of themselves. There is no self-consciousness. They just give you this honest stare into the camera.

Van Kornegay, visual communications professor

The students got to see their work have an impact. During their stay, they did a video story about the community’s broken well pump, which had provided easy access to safe water.

“The students did a story on that and posted it to the Ministry of Hope website,” Kornegay said. “People saw it, donated money, and the pump was fixed, just like that.”

It is that immediacy of making a difference that turned the “weird and glorious adventure,” as Kornegay called the trip, into confirmation of a life plan for Thomasin Holly, a 21-year-old visual communications junior from Delaware.

“Before I went on this trip, I thought it would be great to work for a nonprofit or charity,” Holly says. “This trip was kind of a litmus test of whether it was something I really wanted.

“Now, I could definitely see myself working for charities.”

In addition to the medical clinic and putting their visual communication and journalism skills to use, the students worked in a community center that provides meals for families and in an emergency nursery for infant orphans. They also learned how to raise money for the expensive trip – about $5,000.

A local couple donated five $1,000 scholarships to help defray the costs for some students, while other students solicited donations from their home churches and obtained study abroad funding and grants from USC’s Dobson Volunteer Service Program.

Kornegay, who has taught at USC since 1988, says the trips are the result of his years of yearning to be a nomadic storyteller. He has been traveling around the world for much of his career, helping to set up newspapers in former communist countries and in a small island nation that never had printed news.

“These kinds of things are why I’m still here,” he says. Stealing a line from the movie “Broadcast News,” he asks, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?”

“I’ve gotten to do that here for 20-something years.”

See the videos

The students in Van Kornegay’s service-learning class use video to tell the stories of the folks they met in Malawi. You can see these videos on the Ministry of Hope website. If you are interested in traveling with Kornegay's class this summer or would like to help the students pay for the cost of their trips, email Kornegay.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about