Welcomed into the Warm Heart of Africa
July 5th 2017. Global Citizen JK Cho writes about working with the Banda Bola Foundation in Chituka Village, Malawi.
In case you have ever asked yourself what the world would look like if people just be nice to each other, I got an answer: it would look a lot like Malawi. With a nickname of The Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi is a tiny country located in Southern Africa. Living up to its “notorious” nickname, Malawians are so friendly and loving they are known for always being willing to help family, friends, and even a stranger. In fact, the welcomes, the meals, and the human interactions that I got here were so warm and earthy, and I certainly have been spoiled by them. I mean I was going to do my laundry at the community well for the first time in a month. And then a neighborhood guy on a bicycle sees me, stops on the road, throws his bicycle off, and starts helping me like my house just caught fire. It’s just another lovely day in Chituka village in Malawi.
Chituka village is the hometown of CAC’s Malawi partner, Keni Banda and the Banda Bola Foundation. Keni moved to the States from Malawi when he was 14. And, he played and coached soccer professionally. After decades of a successful coaching career in U.S. NCAA women’s soccer teams, Keni founded Banda Bola Foundation in 2010 and launched Chituka Village Project to bring social changes in his hometown area in Malawi. As much as he has an inspiring and passionate personality, breaking into chants of “Solve Your Problem!” and “Let’s Figure It Out!” multiple times a day, he is also a funny and kind guy like your typical favorite uncle. His family in Malawi are all deeply involved in social impact as well. His sister, Sekani, is a board member of Banda Bola Foundation and an aspiring social worker. Her two sons, Manyanda and Patici are also passionate about social entrepreneurship. I thought it was very interesting that Manyanda is a social impact music producer going into rural villages with artists, listening to the village people’s issues, and turning them into beautiful songs (Check out Amplified Movement – Bring Them Back on YouTube). The Banda family provided incredible cooperation, food, accommodation, and friendship during the two-week schedule in Malawi.
Team Malawi was comprised of two amazing veteran coaches, Charlie C. and Ashlyn, and two Global Citizens including Charlie O. and me. Besides me, they all were collegiate soccer players. After their athletic careers, they joined CAC to contribute to making the world a better place, using soccer as a messenger. Although they sometimes made a fun of my soccer skill, I loved the team very much for making such good balance and harmonious vibes. Charlie O. even suffered from Malaria in the first week, but he completed the schedule with a smile on his face the whole time. When we arrived at Malawi, it didn’t take us more than two days to find out that corruption and power abuse are the major social issues that Malawi had been facing. Radio and newspapers constantly reported about corrupted politicians and nonsensical policies. People gave a sigh of resignation about losing precious natural resources to foreign corporations as well as jobs to those who got power and connections. Limited access to education coming from poverty also seemed to be a serious and urgent issue. The CAC team and Banda Bola Foundation agreed to focus on addressing those issues during the training sessions, with openness to listen to participants own social concerns.
We spent the first week getting familiar with Chituka village and trying to get accepted by the people. Chituka village is located right by the beautiful Lake Malawi, surrounded by majestic, evergreen mountains. The area is very underdeveloped, and most of the people there walk around barefoot and live without electric power. First, we met a grand chief lady who oversees about 60 local chiefs’ daily responsibilities. The “zenness” emitted by her was truly amazing. She warmly welcomed us, and it was one of the coolest moments of my life. After that, we visited one of the primary schools where Chituka Village Project originated from. We hung out with the current students who would be benefiting from our program for the next 3 years and got inspired by their innocence and simplicity. Finally, we had a meeting with about 20 local chiefs to discuss what CAC and Banda Bola were trying to bring to the community. It was interesting that some of the chiefs were having a hard time understanding the significance of adopting sustainable solutions. They wanted an immediate help with food, clothes, and money rather than long-term solutions such as implementing Self-Directed Learning skill. It was like we were trying to teach how to catch fish, dried them to save, and sell the rest at the market, but they just wanted fish. After a long discussion, the meeting ended well, and the chiefs officially welcomed us. I will never forget the moment when a prince said, “Now, you are one of us. Don’t be afraid of exploring our village. You are one of us, and we will take care of you.”
The training week was fantastic. We had 64 participants from 33 organizations, which was considerably more than I had expected. Not only that, it was remarkable that 19 of them were female, marking about 30% of the total participants. The participant mix consisted of local teachers, sports coaches, social workers, and volunteers. We delivered lots of games related to gender equity as well as child rights and democratic conflict resolution style (anti-corruption). The participants quickly understood the program and started using their voices to express their own colorful opinions. Keni supported the participants not only by providing an amazing training venue, great snacks, and transportation money but also inspirational speeches. At the end of the training week, I observed participants embracing the importance of Self-Directed Learning and looking to incorporate it into their teaching practices. We estimated a total of 4346 children (2129 girls and 2217 boys) would benefit from the program immediately. Moreover, we anticipated a lot of these girls and boys would become Bonda Bola Foundation volunteers after graduation and transfer the impact to younger children, multiplying our impact radically in future years.
One of the random facts that I came across when I did research on Malawi was that, out of Madonna’s 6 children, four of them are adopted, and all of the singer’s adopted kids were from Malawi. She also has put on many concerts and events to raise global awareness towards Malawi’s social issues. After experiencing Malawi for 2 weeks, I now could understand why the singer has been so married to this tiny country: Malawians are incredibly loving and warm-hearted. The capacity of their love is so big that I want to have them around me all the time. Well, although I’m not a superstar singer, I now have a Malawian family in Chituka village. Hoping to come back to this beautiful place some day, I said goodbye to the warm heart for now and departed for Kenya.