When White Mountain Middle School art teacher Shannon Ramaka heads to Zambia on Wednesday, she embarks on a journey to teach the children of diplomats, international business people and others living abroad.

When White Mountain Middle School art teacher Shannon Ramaka heads to Zambia on Wednesday, she embarks on a journey to teach the children of diplomats, international business people and others living abroad.

But Ramaka, 41, also is scouting out the prospect of founding an art school for orphans in sub-Saharan nation.

"I feel my mission is eventually to open an art school in Africa," she said. "I think art is the most healing of all curricular areas. Art can be used to teach everything and is a foundation of learning."

The number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to reach 20 million by 2010 because of the spread of AIDS, according to UNICEF.

Adopted when she was 3 months old after her biological parents gave her up, Ramaka said she has an affinity for orphans.

Ramaka was hired as a drama teacher for grades 6-12 at the International School of Lusaka in Zambia, through the International Schools Services, an agency staffing English-speaking international and private schools all over the world.

Her assignment will last one year unless she chooses to extend it.

About 30 percent of the 450 pupils at the school are Zambians.

Ramaka said she has been interested in living abroad since high school but couldn't do so because of financial limitations.

"When I was in high school I had friends who did an international exchange, and I always envied them," Ramaka said. "They came back with a focus and direction in life I really appreciated."

In the last two years, Ramaka has coordinated a student exchange between White Mountain and Showa-Mura Junior High School in Japan.

Ramaka operated the Renaissance Public Charter School focusing on art-based instruction for grades 5 through 8 until seven years ago when the Eagle Point School District closed the school because of budget constraints.

"When I was running the Renaissance School I felt like that was what I should be doing in life," Ramaka said. "I think my mission now is to open an art school in Africa.

"What I understand is that the African spirit is very expressive, and I think everyone has something to say. Art can be the key to self-esteem, which, I imagine is an issue for orphans."

Ramaka will live in Zambia with her daughter, Emma Sanders, an Eagle Point High sophomore, in staff housing near the international school.

Emma, who will attend the school on a scholarship, played a part in Ramaka's choice of destinations. Ramaka also considered Bangladesh, Morocco, Russia and Japan.

"My daughter said, 'I think Zambia will be beautiful, mom, and I want to work with animals,'" Ramaka recounted.

Her daughter will participate in the environmental education program in which she'll learn how to rehabilitate wild animals.

Their first outing in Zambia will be a safari Aug. 6 at Kafue National Park.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.