Pompton Lakes High School graduate is sharing her knowledge with students in Zambia

Veronica McCallum
Veronica McCallum

By the time borough resident Veronica McCallum entered her mid-teens, she had endured physical abuse as a young child in foster homes and dropped off the academic honor roll and out of sports she had once loved.


By the time she graduated from high school in 2007, however, with the steadfast support of her adoptive parents and guidance of school counselors, Veronica had made a 180-degree turn.

The tale of her harrowing journey combined with her extraordinary strength of character and determination to overcome every obstacle earned Veronica the prestigious 2007 Rotary Student Achievement Award for Pompton Lakes High School. She also was poised to embark on a mission to “provide the same encouragement and support to other teens in harm’s way” that she had received from her parents and high school teachers, counselors, and administrators.

After graduating from Rowan University with a degree in education a couple of years ago, Veronica, obviously never one to choose the easy road, sought to offer that support where it might be needed most, in the Third World country of Zambia in Africa as a volunteer with the Peace Corps.

Several months ago Veronica’s parents, Nancy, a long-time teacher at Lenox School, and Rob, a former William Paterson University professor and former long-term local Board of Education trustee, traveled to Zambia to visit her. Upon their return home, Rob shared his thoughts on the work Veronica is doing and the need for funds to support her efforts. He is hopeful that once again, as it has in the past, the greater community will provide that support.

“Zambia is a country in Southern Africa,” Rob explained, “A former British colony known as Northern Rhodesia, it obtained its independence in 1964. Unlike its neighbors, the Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Angola, Zambia is distinguished by its political stability and being peaceful. It has to be, otherwise the Peace Corps would not send its volunteers there to work!

“Its economy historically was based on copper mining and now on emerging ecotourism centered on Victoria Falls, which it shares with its neighbor, Zimbabwe,” Rob said. However, despite these qualities, “it is clearly a Third World country where poverty is the norm and the unemployment rate outside of its capital, Lusaka, is about 86 percent.”

Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural northern Zambia for the last two years, Veronica is an education specialist teaching English in the local village school.

The Peace Corps organized by President John Kennedy in 1961 has four main components: education specialists (such as Veronica), health specialists, community organizers, and economic assistance specialists.

“Despite knowing the conditions that our daughter was working and living in, we were shocked with the obvious extreme poverty which is all too evident, particularly in rural areas,” Rob said. “Veronica’s school looks more like a prison with bare walls, virtually no educational materials including textbooks, and no electricity, except in the headmaster’s office.”

With a typical class size of about 60 students, Veronica is teaching a seventh-grade class with students ranging in age from 12 to 26. Under these conditions, her major activities now center on establishing a girls’ club and helping to organize and educate women.

“Veronica’s main focus now is to obtain funds to finish a community center, which is located about two miles from her village and would actually service several other local villages. She has obtained a grant from the Peace Corps and needs an additional $3,500 in matching funds to finish the project,” Rob said.

Putting his daughter’s efforts into global perspective, Rob said, “Despite all the dysfunction evident in Washington today and petty squabbling about the budget and in particular foreign aid, the one line item which seemed to be exempt from this bickering was the budget for the Peace Corps.” And, while there is a great deal of cynicism evident among Zambian locals about aid provided by other well-intentioned organizations, there is only respect and appreciation expressed for Peace Corps efforts.

In Washington, “both politicians on the left and the right seem to understand that the Peace Corps may be our most important export and represents the very best of our country. I cannot tell you how proud we are of our daughter to be a part of this program,” said Rob.

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