When I arrived back home from Malawi in late July, I was overwhelmed by how I wanted to share what I had learned while being there. A few weeks later, I created the big picture. My blog was originally dedicated only to Concern Worldwide and sharing each day in Malawi. Later, I decided to join the Concern Leadership Network, and wanted to incorporate more about this. After that, I also wanted to share more about what I was doing with my newer (at the time), involvement with Theatre for a Change.
Theatre for a Change. Where do I even begin? I was amazed by the program the minute I heard that it was on our list of stops in Malawi. When we got to the school, I was speechless. TfaC's vision "...is to see vulnerable and marginalised groups empowered with the knowledge, awareness and skills to positively transform their lives, and the lives of others, at local, national and international levels." Their mission "...is to use uniquely active and participatory tools that promote sexual and reproductive health and gender rights." Their goal "... is to improve the sexual and reproductive health
of vulnerable and marginalised groups." Seeing the work a non-profit organization like TfaC was doing in these schools, was incredible. Actively involved in theatre from a young age, I am constantly reminded of how much an impact theatre and storytelling has on not only the individual, but on society as a whole. Seeing this in Malawi, was eye opening.
I was able to watch while students expressed their thoughts, feelings and opinions on gender based violence, and how they can make a change within their school, and within their community. I listened to girls tell me they missed school due to their menstrual cycles. I listened as they asked for bathrooms and changing spaces, so that they could attend school. That was all they wanted: to attend school. You could see it in their eyes, they wanted to be there, to learn, to grow, to become doctors, actresses, teachers, among many other goals they shared with us. I thought about back home, where we complain about having to go to school, about the loads of homework, and the long days. It all hit me at once. It didn't make sense to me. How do I take everything for granted, on the daily? How do children at home not know how lucky they are to go to school? Listening to these young children talk so openly about the issues they were facing, was devastating. It hurt. It made me angry, it made me feel selfish. However, after that, I was able to sit in on their lesson for the day. I experienced the Right to Learn Project at the Mbembembe Primary School in Phalombe, Malawi. This project works to make schools into safer environments for children, focusing on reducing school related gender based violence and discrimination. I was able to watch as Yami, the Agent of Change at the school, led a lesson on sex vs. agenda. I was able to watch as the students danced around the room, singing and moving freely, learning confidence and leadership. I would like to say it was inspiring, but it was so much more than that. Even now, I still cannot find the words to describe the experience.
The 40 hours of stop-and-go traveling home from Africa didn't even bother me. I kept thinking about the kids at that school, their joy and positivity, their passion and hunger to learn. Nothing else seemed important. I was baffled that there was this whole "other world" where people lived like this. Where children would go without a meal, would walk 2 miles to school every day. Of course we hear about it on the news and we learn about it in school. Seeing it firsthand, was something completely different. It was real. But the one thing that stuck out to me most, was that the people were the same. The people were just people; like you, like me. So why did they get this life, the one with hurt, hunger, and hardship? Why did I get wealth, an unyielding amount of food, clean water, and a roof over my head? A million questions ran through my mind. But in the end, I realized that one thing they had, that one thing that we're often missing here in America: pure, genuine joy. Malawi is often called "The Warm Heart of Africa." This is the most fitting name, because it is just that. Malawians are the kindest people I have ever met. They are always smiling, always laughing. They welcomed our bus with song and dance. Their joy and positivity was endless. And the children at the school were this, times a million. Theatre for Change was helping cultivate this, while at the same time, teaching the mothers, fathers, young boys and girls lessons to equip them with the tools they need to make a positive difference in their lives.
A few weeks after I got home, I reached out to Ryan Borcherding, the Interactive Theatre Programme Coordinator at Theatre for a Change. I asked to be added to the mailing list, and shortly after was contacted by Clare Taylor, the Communications and Development Manager at TfaC. After many emails back and forth and a wonderful, inspiring phone call, Clare invited me to become a volunteer ambassador for Theatre for a Change. Raising awareness through social media, blogging and fundraising, I knew I wanted to be a part of the team. I was ecstatic to say the least. I wanted to share my story of my time in Africa with TfaC, with others. In the fall, I talked to Clare about blogging for a site TfaC often worked with, called Girls' Globe. "Girls’ Globe offers a platform to educate and inspire people to take action on issues related to human rights, social justice and gender equality through creative communications, driven by the connected voices of girls and women worldwide." Many things stood out to me about Girls' Globe, one being its huge platform to reach so many women & girls on an international level. Eleanor Gall, the Communications Strategist at Girls' Globe, welcomed me whole heartedly. Throughout the fall and over the holidays I worked on my post for Girls' Globe. I just recently became a blogger for the organization, and am overjoyed to share my first published piece. I hope if you take anything away from this, it is that we are more alike than we are unalike. While in Malawi I experienced pure joy in the midst of close to nothing. These children, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, people, are just like you. But, they live without any of the materialistic items we place such a high value upon in the States. They often live without clean water, shoes to walk to school in, books to read, blankets to sleep under, but they live with joy. I have never experienced anything like what I did in Malawi, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity I was given from Concern.
The link to my article is below.