Upon graduating from Wittenberg on May 12, Madeline O’Malley has found her perfect fit with the Peace Corps – a path she has been interested in since high school and one of the reasons she chose to attend Wittenberg University.
O’Malley, from Columbus, Ohio, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international studies with an emphasis on the Peace Corps track. She fell in love with Lesotho after visiting the South African Kingdom during the 2015-16 academic year. She will return to Lesotho as a Youth Empowerment HIV/AIDs Volunteer with the Peace Corps this September for 27 months.
“Joining the Peace Corps has actually been a dream of mine ever since I was 14. When I discovered the Peace Corps, it just seemed perfect for what I was interested in and it made coming to Wittenberg all the more appealing because of the Peace Corps Prep program here,” said O’Malley, who worked with the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative (LNI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit created three years ago by a small group of Wittenberg students and faculty members, led by Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, chair of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep Program and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Lesotho. LNI provides 350,000 meals a year to 1,500 children in Lesotho suffering from severe malnutrition and stunting. O’Malley was LNI’s event planner from 2016-17, then president in 2017-18.
“After going to Lesotho during the winter of 2015-16, it not only solidified my dreams of joining a service-dedicated program after graduation, but also introduced to me to the most wonderful country filled with the kindest and (most) welcoming people I have ever come across,” she continued. “Once I returned from Lesotho, my passion for the country never subsided, and I continued to study it more. As I became involved with LNI, I continued to care more about Basotho and the idea of returning to Lesotho after graduation seemed like a dream.”
While going through the Peace Corps application process, O’Malley and Rosenberg came across the Youth Empowerment HIV/AIDs Volunteer in Lesotho position.
“From that moment on, my mind was set. I've never felt such a strong drive to do something, and this program just felt like the best way that I could help,” O’Malley explained. “None of this would have been possible without Dr. Rosenberg giving me the courage to follow my dreams. The selection process took about a month. After applying in November, I had my interview, and eight days later, I received the email that I had been dreaming about for seven years.”
A country of slightly more than two million, Lesotho has an estimated 200,000 orphans and an estimated 33 percent of children under the age of five years who suffer from severe malnutrition and stunting. Only 11 percent of Basotho children aged six to 23 months fall into the criteria for a minimum acceptable diet.
Lesotho holds a special place in the hearts of many Wittenberg students - either through participation in service trips, fundraising for service trips or through LNI – so when it was announced that King Letsie III, the Constitutional Monarch of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, would deliver the keynote address at Wittenberg’s class of 2018 Commencement exercises, O’Malley was thrilled.
“His Majesty was incredibly kind to all of us, and it was truly a blessing to have had the opportunity to meet him,” she said. “His words were timely and inspirational to hear as a graduating senior. Wittenberg, and especially this class, have all been so involved with Lesotho, whether it be helping with fundraising for LNI, attending LNI's events, or packing meals for chronically malnourished people in Lesotho.
“As a result of the kindness and inclusiveness of the Springfield Rotary and Wittenberg, I was lucky enough to be able to meet the king and queen briefly on Friday at a barbecue and again on Sunday for lunch. They were absolutely wonderful. I felt very honored to have those two opportunities. The words shared by Steve Neely (president of Springfield Rotary), Dr. Rosenberg, and His Majesty were unforgettable. It was wonderful to hear the three of them speak on the strong and deep relationship between Lesotho, Wittenberg, and the Springfield community.”
Since 2003, more than 400 Wittenberg students and community members have participated in a service-learning trip to Lesotho through a program founded by Rosenberg.
“Maddy went on the Lesotho service-learning trip over Christmas break 2015-16,” Rosenberg said. “I think she fell in love with Lesotho on that trip, and immediately joined LNI after we returned. All of the other students recognized her passion for this project, her commitment, her leadership and how she fell in love with Lesotho. This is why she and other students do LNI. Maddy has worked really hard to prepare herself for this.”
Inspired by Rosenberg’s own years in the Peace Corps, the program participants spend four weeks in service, helping to build houses, planting gardens, creating playgrounds, and volunteering at orphanages and a pediatric AIDS clinic, among other activities. Many of the sites the students volunteer at are projects begun by Springfield Rotary, and now both groups work together toward their sustainability.
“Whether it be through his Peace Corps volunteer experience in Lesotho as an agricultural volunteer, all the work he's done since, and especially through his dedicated work with LNI, Dr. Rosenberg has inspired me in numerous ways to serve the people of Lesotho,” said O’Malley, who was a member of Sigma Kappa, served as vice president of Student Senate, played intramural soccer and was a Tiger Health Educator during her time at Wittenberg. “It was insane that out of all the volunteers for the 24-hour pack-a-thon, he was the only person out of all of us to make it the full 24 hours. His passion to help the Basotho people is unwavering, it's really inspirational to us students.”
O’Malley, who has always enjoyed helping others, is interested in the non-profit sector as a career once she returns from Lesotho.
“Wittenberg has helped guide me toward my career path through its excellent Peace Corps Prep program, and the university's wonderful faculty and staff,” she said. “I do want to add that joining the Peace Corps and having the ability to follow my dreams would not have been possible without the love and support my family has given me. My parents have been the most supportive people throughout this process and continue to give me the courage to take on this life-changing experience. I truly owe it all to them.”