Elizabethtown Community and Technical College professor Jill Erwin not only has passion for education locally but also in Africa.
“Jill Erwin is one of those special people who understands how to mix being an outstanding professor, a caring human being, an excellent colleague and a quick wit,” ECTC colleague Carla Hornback said.
Hornback said Erwin personifies compassion.
“Upon seeing injustice or human need, Jill is quick to take action and stand up for others,” she said. “She is one of the finest teammates I have ever worked with.”
Erwin, 39, lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and commutes to ECTC to teach. But it’s not her longest educational commute.
She started taking trips to Malawi, Africa, in 2007 when she found out about an orphanage looking for teachers to help in the summer. The schools have a large turnover rate with local teachers who move or sometimes even die of malaria, she said.
She then began to visit the area every other year, growing friendships and getting to know the students.
But even with those efforts, there were more school’s needed. Many of the students will drop out by eighth-grade from financial issues or lack of access to schools, she said.
Erwin helped a friend she met there start a high school called Bell Secondary School in 2015.
“I am like a glorified fundraiser,” she said of her involvement with the school. “I take care of the fundraising so any child who wants to go there can go for free.”
Erwin said she technically is in charge of the school but wants local teachers and educators to be the real ones in control of the school. A friend in Malawi, Jones Magalasi, is the head of the school and runs the day-to-day operations, she said.
Funding for the school has mostly been raised through a GoFundMe campaign.
She said it’s not like the finances of running a school in the United States.
“They can pay for the building, pay teachers and get supplies for about $15,000 a year, total,” she said.
It’s a lot for her to do on her own but much less than school budgets in the states, she said.
The enrollment of the school changes daily because the unpredictability of life there. It can range from 150-400 students, she said.
“I feel guilty because it’s not more,” she said of her efforts. “It’s just this one school and I’m all the way over here in this nice office and they still really struggle.”
So far she’s visited Malawi about six times, she said.
Erwin has some goals for the future of the school. She would like to create a library for the school and provide more technology to give the students some advances.
“I would really like to start a serious meal program so that they are all guaranteed one real nutritious meal a day,” Erwin said.
What the students eat now fills them up and gives them calories, but doesn’t have much nutritional value, she said.
To find more information or to help with fundraising, go to her page on Facebook “Mudzi Modzi: One Village for the Warm Heart of Africa.”
Locally, she teaches classes in the English department at ECTC such as writing, literature and film studies.
She moved to the position nine years ago after teaching at the University of Louisville. Erwin said she wanted to work with community college students because they often are first generation students with fewer resources, something she remembered from her own college experience. She wants to help them not feel overwhelmed by the college experience.
“Jill is passionately committed to teaching and to helping students improve their writing,” colleague Jacqueline Hawkins said. “She cares about her colleagues and wants to help them consistently improve their work environment.”
Hawkins said Erwin has a “giant heart” and tirelessly advocates for her Malawi school.
In December, she worked with the school to offer a sensitive Santa option to the community. It was the idea of student ambassador, Andrea Mattingly, who has a child with autism. Erwin talked to the ambassadors about a community service project and they agreed on Mattingly’s idea.
“One of the things that makes teaching great is when you have a student who blows you away with a really great idea or project,” Erwin said. “It’s the best part of the job.”