Marci Varley

Marci Varley hugging a group of kids.Marci Varley, Class of 2003

Major: Spanish

Minors: German and International Studies (concentration in Latin American Studies)

Volunteer for RACOBAO and Soft Power Education
(Uganda, Africa)

Marci's blog: www.marcis-uganda.blogspot.com

My interest in language and culture was sparked when I spent a year as a Rotary Exchange Student in Latacunga, Ecuador before college. Upon arriving at Randolph-Macon, I was pleasantly surprised when I had the fortune of studying with Professor Malin. His excitement and passion for learning about and dissecting Spanish culture fueled the fire that had sparked in the previous year and solidified my interest in learning more. As a sophomore, I was ready to take on another language, and, after dabbling in French, I ultimately ended up studying German. Studying German led me to a summer program in Germany before my senior year, which led to a self-created internship in Germany during January Term, and finally, a year in Germany post graduation. The experience of living within a culture is truly the best way to learn a language and gives you the chance to be a part of the different traditions and ways of living. It is also one of the best ways to learn about yourself!

Marci with a young girl.

After returning from Germany, I found a job as a Program Associate at Meridian International Center in Washington, DC. Meridian is one of several programming agencies that is contracted by the State Department to organize 3 week programs for guests of the International Visitor Leadership Program. I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and at times use both my Spanish and German skills to communicate with the visitors. Although many of the guests had a grasp of the English language, it was always well received and appreciated when I spoke to them in their native languages.

Marci straddling the equator.Most recently, I spent 3 ½ months living in rural Uganda volunteering with a local AIDS organization. Rakai Community Based AIDS Organization (RACOBAO) started as a project of the Lutheran World Federation in 1992 and became a local NGO this past January 2008. The organization aims to assist anyone in the Rakai and Lyantonde Districts (the worst hit in Uganda by AIDS) who is affected by the pandemic. Their many programs include sponsoring students in secondary school, running a vocational school; trainings on better hygiene and sanitation, organic farming, and on the importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status; medical outreach and assistance; and livelihood and food support which means building homes, kitchens, latrines and water tanks for the people suffering the most. My biggest roles as a volunteer are to assist in writing human interest stories about the people and families RACOBAO is helping, create video presentations with my photographs to be given to donors and used at fundraisers, and to teach English at the vocational school for children who did not have a chance to finish secondary school.

Marci with a group of school children.The 14 weeks I spent in Uganda this spring were the most life-changing weeks of my life. Having the chance to be a part of work that finds people with expressionless, empty faces and despair in their eyes and help give them hope, smiles and faces full of life and the glimmer of a future they never thought possible is truly priceless. The work was so fulfilling and rewarding that I am headed back in a few short weeks to spend 6 months volunteering with two organizations, RACOBAO and Soft Power Education. Most of my time will be spent with Soft Power, although I plan to take monthly trips to RACOBAO’s office to continue my projects with them. With Soft Power, I will be re-building schools in the villages next to the Nile River, painting learning/teaching aides on the school walls, teaching English and hopefully have the chance to work in many other areas of the organization as well. I cannot wait to see what this next experience brings!

Although my job title is currently volunteer, I hope to one day be able to work with an organization that does similar humanitarian, grass roots work in the developing nations of the world. I would love to get back to Latin America and to have the chance to use my Spanish skills more…but in the meantime, I will try to learn more Luganda (the main tribal language in Uganda; English is the official language) and continue my journey in Uganda. Tulabagane!