September marked Watershed's eleventh year as a community! To celebrate, each month until next September we’re bringing you a list of ELEVEN things someone in our community is passionate about. In addition to picking up some interesting new knowledge, we hope this series will help you get to know a handful of the incredible people who call Watershed home!


December’s ELEVEN list comes from Steve Cook, long-time Watershedder and founder of Equitas, a non-profit which provides opportunity through education for vulnerable children in the developing world. 

In 2006, Steve was reading an email and saw something in the sidebar that caught his attention: there are 27 million slaves in the world today. He clicked on the link and read an article about human trafficking in the world, and how there are more slaves today than there were when slavery was legal. Steve was then faced with a decision. He could close the article, go about his normal everyday life, and pretend he didn’t know anything about this, or choose to act on this knowledge and do something about it. He chose the latter and has never been the same.

Equitas is one of Watershed's global justice partners, and we're so proud of what Steve and his supporters have been able to accomplish in the name of love. Today Steve gives us a taste of why he fell in love with Malawi, the country in Africa where Equitas recently built a school. Who knows, maybe after reading Steve's ELEVEN list you'll feel drawn to this special place too...

11 Things I Love About Malawi

1) The smiles. Malawi culture is one of the friendliest I’ve experienced in the world. It matters not where you are - on the street in a bustling city or in the most rural area of the country - if you greet a stranger with a wave and smile, you will consistently receive a wave and smile in return.

2) The singing. Music is an integral part of life in Malawi. From sunrise to sunset, women and children can be heard carrying beautiful melodies while cooking, fetching water from a well, or working around the home. And when the choir comes together, it’s a wonderful array of full harmonies sung by men with booming bass and tenor, and women rounding out the sound with higher voices. You’ll also hear the occasional high-pitched trill.

3) The dancing. When a group comes together for a performance, singing is always accompanied by dancing. One of the highlights of my visits to Gadi Village is when the church choir performs. I join the men and boys in the back rows and try my best to keep up with their fast footwork. The inevitably end up laughing very hard at my attempts.

4) The meals. In the villages, people sit on bamboo mats on the floors of huts when eating meals. Before and after the meal, a basin of hot water with a cup inside is passed around, and you pour water over the hands of the person next to you so they can wash up. Food is placed in the center and bowls are passed around. It is an intimate time that always sparks interesting conversation.

5) The climate. Temperatures range from lows in the 60’s during the winter to highs in the 90’s during the summer. Since the country is so close to the equator, it definitely feels warmer during the heat of the day. But it is generally mild and can be very pleasant when there is a breeze.

6) The community. Most homes in villages are small. Rooms serve multiple purposes for eating meals, sleeping, or gathering for family discussions. But the majority of life is shared with family and neighbors in the common areas outside the homes. The open space beneath the shade of a large tree is your “living room." Some of my most cherished times in the villages have been walking through the fields or sitting on the porch of a home with my friends there. I’ve passed hours of a day like this with very few words spoken as we just enjoyed being together.

7) The markets. Loud, fast-paced and colorful, markets (larger ones are often referred to as trading centers) can occupy all corners of a major intersection on a highway or city street. They can be an adventure for your senses as you experience the aroma of searing goat, dried fish, grilled chips, dust, and diesel exhaust all at once. You can find everything from ripe fruits and vegetables to clothes and shoes at these vibrant markets.

8) The stars. Rural Malawi has no electricity. Standing in a village several miles from the nearest city means there is no artificial light. And this means the sky comes alive with galaxies and trillions of stars you could never see otherwise. The U.S. is in the Northwestern Hemisphere, and Malawi is in the Southeastern Hemisphere, so you will see magnificent, unfamiliar star formations. 

9) The wildlife. Visits to a Malawi game reserve can reveal diverse species of animals. Elephant, leopard, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, crocodile, zebra, cape buffalo, a large variety of antelope from the smaller bushbuck to the massive sable, warthog, baboons, and numerous smaller animals such as mongoose or porcupine. They even introduced a pride of lions from South Africa to a reserve this year.

10) The energy. The children in a village never slow down. At all times of day they can be seen running, laughing, jumping rope, playing football (boys) or netball (girls), dancing, or simply smiling. It never ceases to amaze me how much joy can be gleaned from life despite abject poverty and the harshest of living conditions.

11) The sunsets. With no large buildings to block your view, sunsets in rural Malawi can overwhelm your soul. It is delightful to watch the immense sky morph through its magical hues of yellow, gold, orange, red, and maroon before settling into its midnight blue and finally, darkness. It makes your heart feel light.

Thanks for sharing your passion with us, Steve! We're so grateful for your heart and are inspired by what has transpired in your life since clicking that link 10 years ago. We love partnering with Equitas and we cherish the opportunity to connect with such a special place on the other side of the world!

Do you have an interesting 11 list you'd like us to consider? We'd love to hear your idea! Tell us about it here.