Williston resident to teach in Africa

Burke to serve in Tanzania

By Katrina Gibson
Observer correspondent

This week, local resident Caroline Burke is giving new meaning to the word Thanksgiving. While most Vermonters will celebrate the holiday at home with their families, the Williston resident will be packing her bags and heading off on a journey to serve the world.

Burke leaves for the African country of Tanzania on Friday to begin a two-year commitment volunteering for Jesuit Volunteers International, or JVI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the poor.

“JVI is structured around the four basic components – living simply, building community, witnessing faith and doing justice,” said Burke.

Burke will be teaching English and social ethics at Loyola High School, an all girls’ school in the city of Dar es Salaam.

“I’m doing something that I love. I have always enjoyed being around people and affecting change,” said Burke.

Burke was accepted to the program in April and has been preparing for her trip ever since.

“I have had a long time to say goodbye and come to terms with what I will be doing,” said Burke. “I have been to Kenya and have had some firsthand experience. I really fell in love with Africa the first time, so I am secure and confident about going again.”

As a part of her commitment, Burke has been asked to raise $3,000 to help defray the cost of supporting the volunteers for JVI. She will reside in a house near the school with two other Jesuit Volunteers, and live off a $60 a month stipend. The money raised will help pay the volunteers’ room and board during their stay.

“We get a budget for the community which will take care of our food, and expenses,” said Burke. “We’ll have to decide amongst ourselves how best to use the money.”

Burke has been writing letters to friends and family members asking for donations.

Burke graduated in May from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where she received a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in peace and conflict studies.

Throughout her college career she had been living the college’s mantra by volunteering in various community organizations.

“Holy Cross really promotes the motto ‘men and women for each other,’” said Burke. “They (Holy Cross) are really big on providing opportunities for the students and community to get involved. I figured it would be a nice way to meet people.”

In 2003, Burke acted as a big sister in the big brother/big sister division of the college’s Student Programs for Urban Development organization, tutoring and mentoring an 11-year-old boy. And while most college students head off on vacation for spring break, Burke headed to Biloxi, Miss. to help disadvantaged families and individuals for the Appalachia Service Project.

Burke also acted as co-chair of the Appalachia/Gulf Region Service Project, where she led a group of students to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Asked why she spends her free time volunteering, Burke replied, “It makes me feel alive.”

After graduation, the call to help others grew stronger for Burke, which prompted her to get involved with JVI.

“Somewhere during my time spent tutoring in Worcester and fixing houses in New Orleans, I found myself unable to ignore the desire to go back and go deeper,” Burke wrote in a letter to her friends and family explaining her new venture and asking for donations.

“The program is incredibly attentive and supportive. It’s good to know I have people dedicated to (my success) back here in the states,” said Burke. “The challenge is saying goodbye and not being with my family and friends for two years.”

Though Burke departs on Friday, donations will continue to be accepted during her stay. JVI is a nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible. To make a donation in Burke’s name visit JesuitVolunteers.org or make checks payable to Jesuit Volunteers International, PO Box 3756, Washington, D.C. 20027-0256.

“The Jesuit Volunteers work for and with people who are homeless, unemployed, refugees, people with AIDS, the elderly, street youth, abused women and children, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled,”according to the group's web site.