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Voice: March 2017
Teaching the locals about fishing in a rugged, rural, and impoverished area in South Africa wouldn't seem to be the setting for deciding to launch a career in public education in the United States.
But that is where the light bulb went on for Nathan King, who as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late 1990s was teaching residents in Zambia how to raise tilapia.
And the now Mifflin County High School biology teacher hasn't forgotten those roots. He sits on the board of a nonprofit corporation that gives prospective teachers in Serenje, Zambia scholarships to teacher training colleges, and conducts fundraisers in the community and with Mifflin County students to aid the cause.
"The people over there want help so bad," said King. "It's touching to know that somebody is so desperate for your help and knowledge."
A teacher is born
King graduated with a bachelor's in biology from Penn State in 1996 and really had no idea what he wanted to do for a career.
He bounced around, working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida, doing a few odd jobs related to biology, and assisting with some research projects.
King decided to apply to the Peace Corps, and in September 1998 he found himself "on a plane to the middle of nowhere" - Serenje, Zambia, where most residents are poor, hungry, and live amid widespread malaria and the HIV virus. He was assigned to the fisheries program.
Over the next two years, he learned the language, got to know many residents personally, and worked on the tilapia program.
"Although I was doing fisheries work, I really was a teacher," King said. "I liked it."
When he returned, he went back to Penn State and got his master's degree in curriculum and instruction.
The Mifflin County School District hired him in 2004. Today, he teaches AP Biology and is the district's science coordinator.
Zambia and its people remain rooted in King's heart.
It was shortly after he returned in 2000 and before he started on the road to teaching that he and some fellow volunteers decided they wanted to give back.
They started SEED - Self
Empowerment through Education (www.seedzambia.org) - a nonprofit that provides full scholarships to qualified students to pay for college and become teachers. There are no student loans in Zambia, and interest rates on personal loans are very high.
"There are many bright children in Zambia," King said. "But they have little way financially to go to college. And the high degree of HIV and malaria has drained the country of teachers and nurses."
Big fundraiser in May
King enlists students, fellow teachers, and the school in various fundraising projects for SEED. His biggest outside event, the Greenwood Furnace Trail Challenge greenwoodfurnacetrailchallenge.com, takes place May 7. Greenwood Furnace is a state park in mountainous Huntingdon County, and the event is part of the Pennsylvania Trophy Series.
"I feel if you really want to help a country, in terms of sustainability, it's through education," King said. "The people over there gave so much to me. It feels good to give back."