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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

'Hometown boy' at heart of African village

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Byron Jeys, who grew up in Le Mars, is pictured on his farm called Mawingomara in northern Malawi, Africa. Jeys has been in Africa since 1985. He is currently planting thousands of pine trees to help replace those burned in brush fires.
Byron L. Jeys has spent 25 years making a difference in Malawi, Africa.

That's why Jeys, who grew up in Le Mars, described as a 'hometown boy," by his sister Rosemary Radloff, was nominated by the people of Mawai for the country's Nation 2009 Achiever Award.

The annual award is given to individuals, groups or institutions for unique and outstanding contributions to communities in which they operate, according to an African news article.

Byron Jeys, a Le Mars High School graduate, has been living in Africa since 1985. Here he shaves on his farm in northern Malawi. His sister Rosemary Radloff, of Le Mars, said Jeys likes to buy blades for his razor when he visits the United States.
Jeys is one of six people nominated and voting ends Friday.

A1958 Le Mars High School graduate, Jeys went to Malawi in 1985 as a Peace Corps member. His assignment was to help create a vocational rehab program for the country.

That's according to Radloff, who lives on a farm just outside Le Mars with her husband Larry.

"He helped people learn to live with their disabilities and find meaningful work," Radloff said of her brother. "Polio seemed to be the biggest disability they had."

After the Peace Corps, Jeys or "Mawingo" as is his African name, returned to Malawi and taught at Phwezi Boys School for about 15 years.

"It was extremely primitive. There were no desks or chairs," Radloff said. "The children sat on piles of dirt."

Previously Jeys taught high school history and English in Minnesota and California, after graduating from Westmar College, in Le Mars, with a Bachelor of Arts in history/English.

While teaching at the boys school in Malawi, Jeys acquired about 1,000 acres of land on which he built -- Mawingomara Farm.

The farm is on an isolated mountaintop in northern Malawi, said Virginia Pulver, another of Jeys' sisters, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M.

"It's a mile-high. You can look down from the farm and see this beautiful, clear lake," Pulver said in a telephone interview. "It was a hike up there. It's about a five-hour walk."

Pulver visited Jeys' African farm in 2001.

Initially he planted 25,000 coffee and 200 macadamia trees on his farm, but they were destroyed by a fire in 1999, Radloff said.

"Now he's concentrating on reforesting," she said. "Every letter he talks about planting unimaginable amounts of trees."

Jeys plants about 50,000 seedlings annually, Pulver said.

Reforestation isn't the only improvement Jeys has orchestrated while in Africa. He has also built a mill, a small store, a school house and a soccer field.

"He's literally built roads and bridges to get up the mountain," Radloff said. "It started out as a little farm and now people are coming to settle and it's become a village."

Jeys also works hard to see that kids get to go to high school, Pulver said.

Students must take tests to qualify for the secondary schools, which are boarding schools, that also cost money to attend, Pulver said.

People from all over send Jeys money to help him pay for students food and clothing, which doesn't cost much. Students also come to stay with Jeys on school breaks, Pulver said.

In addition to the students, the village people have become as familiar to Byron as he is to them.

"People love Byron because he is a warm person and very respectful and he has a great sense of humor," Pulver said.

Pulver said the local Malawi people are mostly trusting and warm, earning the country's title "The Warm Heart of Africa."

However, some tribal people become suspicious when a person comes from "a rich western country." They are concerned something bad like a criminal record has motivated the move, Pulver said.

"But the locals were very glad when we came to visit -- they were glad to meet the family and to know that my brother is honored and respected in the USA," Pulver said.

Radloff thinks Jeys represents the U.S. well for the African people because he tries to live by the Boy Scout Laws which include being trustworthy, helpful, cheerful and brave.

"I do think his purpose in life is to serve and help others," Radloff said. "He's doing it on a much bigger scale than most people do."

Giving back came from their parents the late Byron D. and Wanda Jeys, Radloff said, because she, Pulver and their sister Janeen Morel, of Des Moines, received the same message.

"I think he's made a difference in the lives of the people there (in Malawi)," Radloff said of her brother. "He's definitely changed lives over there for the better."

Pulver said her brother isn't just making a difference in the lives of the African people of Malawi, but also her life.

"I've made some choices because I saw what my brother was doing," Pulver said. "He planted some seeds and touched a lot of lives."

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What a great story! It deserves the widest possible circulation...it's an inspiration to others about how one person can make a positive difference in many lives, an entire community, and the environment. What an excellent ambassador for American ideals. Kudos to Mr. Jeys, and I hope he wins the national award for which he has been nominated.

-- Posted by MarthaH on Mon, May 3, 2010, at 1:14 PM

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