Chilaweni is a charming community in Southern Malawi where people share the same values, greet each other walking along the dirt roads, and go to African or Christian church on Sunday. However, for many residents everyday life is a struggle: houses are cut off from electricity and running water; charcoal is a luxury and people cook with wood; the nearest supermarket is a 90 minute journey away; people die of malaria, because they cannot reach the next hospital; and even though there is no garbage collection, the dogs don´t find enough food and are skinnier than anywhere else.
I first visited Chilaweni in the summer of 2015 in order to renovate the local primary school. Our team of Quest Overseas volunteers was supposed to put in bigger classroom windows so that the kids in the last rows would be able to read from the chalkboard; copy the content of the text books onto the classroom walls; and paint a world map to make up for the atlasses the school lacked. Hundreds of dark-brown children´s eyes constantly observed every movement I made and any step I took was accompanied by someone yelling “Andrea” until I waved back at them. I didn´t realize until after leaving Chilaweni in tears that these African kids had changed my life forever.
In June I was happily swinging above the hill tops of Ecuador when Quest reached out to me again for another project in Chilaweni. I meant to explore the Brazilian Amazon next, instead a few weeks later I found myself on a plane to Africa where this year´s team was to build a community kitchen and the first playground in the area. I met Denis again, the headmaster of the primary school, who told me that things hadn´t changed much since last year: the school´s funds were very limited and there were only a few textbooks available; children were not able to take notes in class, because their parents couldn´t afford exercise books; as a result, too many kids still had to repeat the same school year.
After having enjoyed living my dream for the past 16 months it was time for me to give back. Education is the key to making our world a better place and I figured the Chilaweni Primary School was a good place to start. Little money goes a long way in Africa, and small changes can leave a big impact on a small community like Chilaweni. I learned it would only take €1.000,- to buy writing material & the text books of the most relevant subjects.
Let´s create my first crowd fundraiser!
Putting together an online fundraiser isn´t rocket science, but being located in a remote village did add some challenges to it. Luckily, I was supported from all sides. A family that did have access to electricity let me crash their living room where I painfully uploaded my photos of overcrowded classrooms. My friends back home kept reminding me of why I was putting up with long-drop toilets and bucket showers once again. A couple days later the fundraiser went online 😀
The response on Facebook was overwhelming! Anywhere from Australia to Europe, people got right on it and only the first ones actually made it on time to support my African community from their living rooms and offices. Within 3 days we reached 101% of the fundraiser´s goal and already two days later Sam, the owner of Bookmate, welcomed Denis and me into his store in Blantyre on a Saturday morning to order 400 text books (104 English, 104 Maths, 104 Chichewa, 41 Science, 36 Social & Environmental Skills, 8 Agriculture).
On Monday the first school books arrived at the Chilaweni Primary School. Two days later I went to town to extend my visa and stopped by the stationary wholeseller to spend the remaining funds on writing material. When Sam gave me a lift back from Blantyre to deliver the remaining text books, he was surprised to see how I filled up the trunk of his car with 1.440 pencils, 1.300 pens, 1000 exercise books, and 192 rulers. Back in Chilaweni Denis jr. and the other kids helped together to store everything in the school until it would reopen in September.
In a nutshell, it only took one week to fundraise, purchase and deliver the school books and writing materials to Chilaweni. For the first time in the history of the primary school there will be a text book lying on every school table; every student will be able to take notes in the lessons; more kids than usual will pass their exams, hopefully. While I am still amazed by how little time and brainpower is needed to make an impact in a developing country, and I am grateful I was able to be part of it.
Thanks so much to everyone who helped the children of Chilaweni to come one step closer to achieving their dreams!