Last winter, Indagare staffers Rose Allen and Shoshana Balistierri traveled to Malawi to scout a service trip with the nonprofit Maloto organization, and returned transformed, insisting we offer a similar opportunity to our community of members. The first Malawi and Zambia Indagare Journey, led by Rose and Shoshana, will take place in May, 2018 and will begin with the chance to meet the people who are affecting change in the country. The trip will offer a behind-the-scenes experience of the organization’s projects and will conclude with a thrilling safari in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Below, Shoshana relays her impressions and Rose shares photos from their moving journey earlier this year.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with Malawi as quickly as I did. I didn’t know that I would leave that country tied to its land, bounded by the red earth and pale blue skies. When we landed on Malawian soil, I found rolling hills and small brick homes bordering the dirt roads like dutiful gatekeepers of territory I had yet to explore. I didn’t know I would get so accustomed to the faint smell of maize, of pine, of res burning in hearths miles away.
But I did fall in love with Malawi. First the land and then the people. And I didn’t know that, like many before me, I would long for it when I left, my body rooted in New York but my heart in the warm plains of Africa.
With nearly an entire generation lost to HIV/AIDS, Malawi faces significant social challenges. Stricken by extreme poverty and disease, the country has a long road to rehabilitation. Malawi is home to a staggering 1.2 million orphans, and only two-thirds of primary school graduates are able to continue their education because the secondary schools don’t have enough spaces.
Maloto works with local partners to develop and support nutrition, education and entrepreneurship programs in the country. Their focus is primarily on women, who, I found, form the soul of the Malawian community and the core of Maloto.
Related: Giving Back in Morocco: Project Soar
During my six-day stay in Mzuzu, Malawi, I was in charge of filming interviews with Malawian women, a task that I hoped would capture the spirit of the place. Tucked away in a small administrative office at the community center, I filmed eight members of the Kwithu Women’s Group, who had each been with the organization—which provides educational and nutritional support to vulnerable children and those orphaned by AIDS—since its founding more than 10 years ago. During this time, they’ve seen hundreds of kids come and go, live and die, succeed and fail. They’ve worked with families who have no food, no medicine and no hope.
Filming them wasn’t easy. Many were shy, modest, unaccustomed to talking about themselves. Others took to being interviewed more naturally, speaking openly about their HIV status and the tragedies they’ve overcome. Through their stories, I learned about the origins of the HIV/AIDs outreach committee Vwira and how its volunteers came together to fight the stigma of the disease in their community. Some joined because they’d lost mothers, spouses, siblings or children to AIDS. Some are HIV positive themselves and know the pain of staying silent about the disease. They spoke about the devastation of the virus and how it left children orphaned, spouses widowed and communities decimated.
As we filmed, I heard tale after tale of loss, but also of hope. Over and over, I heard the women say that Kwithu and Maloto changed their lives. The support of these organizations empowered them to take control of their destinies and provide their families with food and education. They spoke with pride of their children, many of whom had participated in Kwithu’s tutoring, recreation and feeding programs and now attend Mzuzu International Academy, the area’s first internationally accredited secondary school. They spoke of their admiration for Anna Msowoya-Keys, Maloto’s fearless leader, and all that the group has accomplished over the past 10 years.
When the day of filming was done, I sat quietly as we drove through the crowded streets of the market, letting it all sink in. I was in awe of these women and the fortitude they embody. Their hardships do not define them. They have found a way to move beyond their individual traumas and live inspirational lives. I felt my heart swell with gratitude. These women had showed us open-hearted kindness, welcoming us to become a part of something bigger.
When I was little, my mother used to tell me that women have the perseverance, empathy and love to lift the world up and make it a better place. It was through her acts of kindness, selflessness and generosity that I understood the power of women. I captured that same spirit filming at Kwithu. These women, despite everything, have made a huge impact on hundreds of Malawians who are alive today because of their efforts. Their strength is my mother’s strength, my strength, our strength. Limitless. Boundless.
Maloto has proven first-hand how hard work, determination and access to the right resources can bring about lasting change to even the most disenfranchised communities. Contact Indagare to learn more about the Indagare Journey to Malawi next spring, or to plan your own community service–focused journey with Indagare.
This piece is Part I of a new Indagare series on giving back through conscious travel. Check back in future e-Newsletters for more, including other inspiring stories and tips on planning your own giving back travels.