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Adam ’00 and Chrissy ’99 Jeske

In the six years since they’ve been married, Adam and Chrissy Jeske have lived and worked in villages in China, Nicaragua and South Africa; welcomed their two children into their lives; and earned two professional degrees. At least, those are the main points.

March 01, 2008

2008 Forward under 40 Award Honoree

UW Major: Spanish (Adam), English (Chrissy) and Music (Chrissy)
Age: 30 | Winterton, South Africa
Teachers, Writers and Service Workers

In the six years since they've been married, Adam and Chrissy Jeske have lived and worked in villages in China, Nicaragua and South Africa; welcomed their two children into their lives; and earned two professional degrees. At least, those are the main points.

They married shortly after earning degrees at the UW and honeymooned in El Porvenir, Nicaragua, where they spent a year living without electricity or running water, teaching classes and helping connect this coffee-growing village with the fair trade organization, Building New Hope.

The couple returned to Wisconsin in 2001, finding work and service opportunities in the Madison community and university. After a short time, the Jeskes were students once again, taking prerequisite courses in graduate school and Chinese language courses. Soon after, the two made their next journey to Lanzhou, China, where they taught conversational English and western culture.

While teaching, the two found time to earn their MBA's in International Economic Development through Eastern University of Philadelphia's distance learning program before finding themselves for a short time in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with new additions to the family Phoebe Joy and Zeke.

They currently reside in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where for nearly the past two years, they have been serving as Project Directors with Microfinance for Youth, a program to help area students develop employment skills, as well as fundamentals of accounting and business management. Chrissy also writes for the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper and other periodicals about their experiences there.

The Jeskes credit the UW with providing them with a foundation of knowledge, passion and flexibility we need to dive headfirst into a world that can use a little oomph sometimes. Since stepping down as directors from the Microfinance for Youth program at the end of 2007, the Jeskes continue to live, work and write in South Africa with their two children.

In their own words

How else would a first generation college student from a Wisconsin dairy farm meet a third-generation Badger whose parents and grandparents had also fallen in love at the UW? What better place than at the UW, sitting down to plates of cafeteria food under the sky-lights of the Elizabeth Waters Residence Hall. Even in our very first conversation, about Adams Contemporary Life Science class with Tim Allen and the way Adam had rolled down Bascom Hill for sheer pleasure, it was clear the university would change our lives in at least one very important way we met, fell in love, and got married! But that was only the beginning. Through our years in Madison, a desire grew in us to travel the world to be with folks in hard places, serving, offering hope, and learning. The adventure has taken us far from our roots, but through seasons spent back home we have stayed connected to university alumni and resources.

The day after we got engaged, we held hands in Brad Barham's Latin American Economic Development class, one of many courses that would serve us well. Adam majored in Spanish, and interaction with instructors like Barham and Rino Avellaneda (A can opener of the mind, as he put it after a particularly intense discussion) led us to move into abject poverty in El Porvenir, Nicaragua. For a year we lived alongside friends there who had survived Hurricane Mitch in 1998, wars in the 1980s, and constant poverty. We slept on a plastic cot in a tiny barn room, washed clothes by hand in rain water, and ate rice, beans, and tortillas for every meal. Ronald Troxel's Biblical Studies courses and involvement with the Student Impact campus organization gave some foundation to our perseverance, as we connected our coffee-growing neighbors to an organic and fair trade organization. (See buildingnewhope.org for more information.) Chrissy also organized a crocheting group of women and girls, buying their creations during a particularly trying economic time of year, selling them and telling their stories upon returning to Wisconsin in 2001.

We returned to Madison, picking up work and service opportunities through our friends at the University. Our very first full year back in Madtown included caring for an elderly man in his home, teaching ESL and Spanish through MATC, playing piano accompaniment to UW music students (using Chrissy's piano degree), providing medical interpretation for Dane County residents and health care providers, volunteering at the Mifflin Co-op, coaching drama at James Madison Memorial High School, and leading youth at Hope Community Church on learning trips to Appalachia and Nicaragua (with Habitat for Humanity). One summer, we returned to Bethel Horizons Camp, affiliated with Bethel Lutheran Church just off campus, continuing to serve underprivileged youth there as we had as undergraduates.

Within a year we were students again, too, taking prerequisite courses for graduate school and training our tongues in Chinese (five days a week with Chen Jiao ShoProfessor Chen), in preparation for our next big move.

The years of 2003 and 2004 saw us in Lanzhou, China, a city cited in Time as the most polluted city in the world. We taught Conversational English and Western Culture at a teacher training college whose graduates generally remain in rural Gansu province, an area of mountains, desert, and a good deal of poverty. We had grown interested in China since hearing about the work of fellow Badgers there while still undergraduates. We also studied while there, via intensive courses and distance education, receiving MBA's in International Economic Development through Eastern University in Philadelphia. And the first of our two baby Badgers entered our world, our daughter Phoebe Joy, in 2003, followed by our son Ezekiel (Zeke) in 2005.

Back for another season in the U.S., we volunteered for several months among war refugees at a service community called Jubilee Partners. Next, we built on our experiences as a Housefellow and a combined seven years living in UW Residence Halls, and moved our family of four into a residence hall at UW-Oshkosh. Adam worked as a Residence Hall Director and Chrissy cared for the children, tutored a refugee from Sudan, helped at a crisis pregnancy center, and served on the Community Editorial Board of the Oshkosh Northwestern, putting her UW English degree to good use.

But our feet got itchy again. This time Chrissy's memories kept popping up of a World Hunger and Malnutrition class and Harold Scheub's African Storyteller. And the AIDS pandemic called to us. So we raised money from friends, family, and churches in order to serve with the Global Democratic Citizens Union, of Olympia, WA. We are Project Directors for the Youth Empowerment Business Organization (YEBO, meaning yes in Zulu) in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. This pilot project seeks to find the deepest need here and meet it through microfinance. This includes managing an after-school business club for youth and offering loans to caregivers of those sick with AIDS, TB, and other illnesses. The NALRC at the UW has been helpful in finding Zulu language resources for us, continuing the trend as we've been helped in learning Chinese, Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, and Classical Greek in Van Hise Hall! Also, we both write about our life and work here, in various magazines and a column in the Oshkosh Northwestern.

We graduated in 1999 and 2000, and only turn 30 this year, but the UW's impact on our lives has led us in tremendous ways. Courses as diverse as Introductions to Nineteenth Century American Literature and Joseph Elders Thoughts of Gandhi broke open some of our naivete. Involvement with groups we met through the UW, like Habitat for Humanity, Madison Urban Ministry, Lifewise, Youth With A Mission, and WCCN moved us to ask hard questions and fight hard battles wherever they may lie. Our liberal educations trained us to think critically about issues, go address them, and then also to communicate important messages about folks in hard places to audiences back home. The proximity of campus to the Capitol allowed us insights into legislation and advocacy, and though we rely heavily on the Internet, we have never found a substitute for tackling difficult questions at Memorial Library! And not surprisingly, we have often reminisced about the beauty of Lakeshore Path during the bleak dry seasons of our homes in Nicaragua, China, and South Africa.

Our time at the UW provided a foundation of knowledge, passion, and flexibility that we need to dive headfirst into a world that can use a little oomph sometimes.

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