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11 Things I Love About Malawi

11 Things I Love About Malawi

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.

Meet the Middle Schoolers Changing Education in Malawi

Meet the Middle Schoolers Changing Education in Malawi

Meet Social Good CLT

Social Good CLT is a brand new media platform created with an exclusive purpose: to share stories of good in our city. By bringing untold stories to light, Social Good CLT hopes to inspire others to do good as well.

Social Good CLT has collected some of the Queen City's most talented creatives: writers, photographers, graphic designers, social media experts and storytellers. These contributors combine their forces twice a week to share stories of good in the QC. You can find the stories on Social Good CLT’s Facebook and Instagram pages or read full features on the Social Good CLT blog

Last week Social Good CLT launched with a story our community has already been inspired by! Written by Watershed Bloc Leader Holly Martin, this story features the Brew Tang Clan, a student-led coffee shop that Shed Students Pastor Jonathan George started at Piedmont Middle School. All of the funds the coffee shop takes in go straight to the Equitas Village Schoolhouse Project in Malawi. Equitas is one of Watershed’s global partners

Thanks, Social Good CLT, for featuring a few Charlotte change makers Watershed is especially proud of!

Meet the Middle Schoolers Changing Education in Malawi

Written by Holly Martin, Photos by Drew White

Since Jonathan George and his crew, the Brew Tang Clan, started fundraising two years ago with #Coffee4Ed, they’ve raised over $10,000. They’ve got T-shirts and a mission. This year, they got their own space.

All proceeds of their student-run coffee shop at Piedmont Middle School are donated to Equitas, a Charlotte-based nonprofit dedicated to providing education in Malawi.

The group has garnered donations from local roasters Enderly Coffee, Parliament, and Counter Culture, along with pastries from Sunflour Bakery and filtered water from Diamond Springs. A variety of companies have donated equipment, and the project has begun to receive attention of local media outlets like Wilson’s World.

In addition to #Coffee4Ed, the group completes #PiedmontWalk4Ed, a five-mile fundraiser walk from Park Road Shopping Center to their school in Plaza Midwood, raising awareness for how far children in rural Malawi walk to school each day.

Charlottean Steve Cook, a human rights activist, photographer and filmmaker, founded Equitas in 2007. Shortly after, he and George became friends.

As a result of this friendship, George and his wife Kayla went to Malawi to direct a youth sports program in 2009-2010. When they returned, they knew they wanted to continue to help.

George decided to combine his love for teaching, coffee, and social enterprise to help educate students and fundraise to break the cycle of poverty in Malawi. Modeling social enterprise is the objective of #Coffee4Ed. Rather than focusing inward, students are inspired to focus on what benefits others.

The crew has plans to start serving pop-ups at local events and markets.

“My main thing to pass on to them is finding something they’re passionate about to make the world better,” he says. “If it’s coffee, great. If it’s something else, great. My challenge is that they’ll do what they love to do and use that to make social change.”

Equitas is raising $300,000 to build a school in Malawi so students will have accessible education in their own village. Without it, George says, “They’ll miss half a year during the rainy season. They miss kindergarten or they’re behind. They end up becoming subsistence farmers.”

Yamilet, an eighth-grade student, is a Brew Tang Clan member.

“My favorite part is seeing the changes happen in Malawi,” she says, adding, “I love the bragging rights. I can make a really good cup of coffee! You should come try it!”

If you know people, businesses, programs or nonprofits that are helping to make a difference in our city, nominate them to be featured on Social Good CLT here. And don’t forget to follow Social Good CLT on Facebook and on Instagram if you’re interested in learning more about the good happening in our city!