trip to malawi

Back in February, I took a trip with my dear friend Esther Havens to Malawi in southeastern Africa. Before leaving for the trip, I wrote about how the trip came about. (If you don’t know already, I encourage you to take a moment and read that post.) Please excuse the low resolution of most of the photos, as they were taken with my phone. I felt it best to keep my SLR packed away so the villagers wouldn’t feel like they were being “paparazzi’d.” Many months have passed and I’m excited to finally share with you a few photos and stories from the trip!

My feet hadn’t touched African soil in about a year and a half. The last time was in Uganda in August 2010 to work on a Watoto Photo Campaign with Esther. So much joy filled my heart the moment I stepped off the plane in Lilongwe. I was complete once again.

After the buildOn students arrived and went through orientation, we headed straight into the village where the team would build the school – Kankhumbwa. To read a bit about the school project itself, check out this blog post by buildOn.

As they tend to be, the opening ceremony was lively with dancing, singing, and numerous speeches from local leaders. The best part, in my opinion, was the covenant signing. buildOn requires local members of the community to sign a covenant agreeing to provide locally-made bricks and thousands of volunteer hours to build the school. All of the students sign as well, showing true solidarity amongst both the community and American students. It’s one of the many things I love about buildOn’s methodology. As you can see in the photo below, Esther and Sosena (talented filmmaker on the project) didn’t miss a moment. You can read more about this event here on buildOn’s blog.

Our goal for the trip was to capture stories that portray the bigger picture of buildOn and its efforts to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. The stories will be used in a larger campaign to raise awareness and funds for buildOn. I was absolutely blown away with each of the individuals we interviewed.

Below is a behind-the-scenes shot of our crew interviewing Felisiya, the “mother of the village.” Even at 86, her spirit is still strong and she loves to dance. Can’t wait for the campaign to be launched later this year so that you can meet her. 🙂 (Photo by Esther Havens. Used by permission.)

Here are a few shots of where we stayed. A beautiful family in the village graciously opened their home to us. It was simple, but certainly enough. Even without running water or electricity, our hosts went above and beyond to provide hot bath water and cook a meal for us each night. It was an experience I will always remember and hold dear.

Meet Rahni. She is a bright, fun and driven young lady and just one of the many amazing students from the Bronx I met on the trip. Read more of Rahni’s story here.

In the middle of the trip, a group of us trekked 11 hours down the small country to where the very first buildOn school in Africa was built: Misomali. You can read about this story from buildOn’s International Programs Director Brett McNaught here. So much happened in the short day and a half we spent in Misomali, but there was one moment that I want to highlight.

In the middle of the welcoming ceremony, a flash flood rushed through and scattered us all to all the school buildings nearby for protection. Esther used the opportunity to really flex her creative muscles. She grabbed a few of the boys who had been performing for us. They had white paint on their faces and handmade hats on their heads. Here’s a behind the scenes shot:

And here are the beautiful results. (Photo by Esther Havens. Used by permission. Click image to see post on Esther’s blog.)

She seriously never ceases to amaze me! It is always an honor to work with Esther and I am very blessed to call her a dear friend.

The trip was non-stop, intense, and, at times, quite emotional. An adventure of a lifetime. Stay posted for updates on the campaign, scheduled for release this fall. In the meantime, head to and get involved!

To wrap up this post, here is a great video of Esther and a young, strong boy in one of buildOn’s schools. Enjoy!

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