Our Project Kindy Village fundraises to support the kindergarten missions of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Malawi. We are a fledgling charity, registered officially only in 2016. 100% of general donations received cover the $4/month kindy fees. Children suffering extreme poverty are empowered to attend kindy where they receive a daily meal and early years education, which provide both short and long term support that is life-changing. Research clearly indicates that pre-school education gives the gift of “school readiness” which improves the standard of living for the individual children, their communities and the country.
Malawi is one of the poorest subsistence farming nations in the world and the 19 million people who live there are very vulnerable to severe food insecurity. The average Gross Domestic Product per person is roughly $500 for the year, whereas for us Aussies, it’s over $56 000. In 2016 they were categorised at highest level of food crisis, where one in 3 people faced starvation.
So, how did we become to be connected to Malawi? How did the Project Kindy Village begin? One of my dearest friends, Sr Melissa Dwyer, a Canossian nun, spent 8 years in Malawi serving in a number of roles. In 2011, Mel was home on a break and visited me. Over a cuppa, she told me many of her adventures and mentioned that the kindergarten next to the convent may have to close as the parents couldn’t afford the $4/month fee. There were 40 children attending at that time. Keen for a new adventure, it seemed that supporting 40 children at $4/month was quite straight forward. Little did I know the ways this small gesture would be blessed and multiplied by the Aussie Village and the Malawian Village.
The friends and family I emailed were quick to respond to the call for help and we began fundraising straight away and as our mission spread by word of mouth, our Project Kindy Village grew in Australia. Within a few years, the Sisters were able to reopen 6 more village-run kindies that had been closed for some time due to the lack of funds. Over time, other villages saw the self-run kindergarten model and requested it for their own communities. Now we support 11 kindergartens with about 720 children in attendance, 120 of those are at the first kindy.
In May 2017, 6 years after we began fundraising, another original Project Kindy leader, Julie Soh, and I were able to visit the villages in rural Malawi for the first time and meet the children, teachers, mums and village leaders. A few things struck me as I witnessed firsthand what had grown from our small gestures.
Firstly, I was surprised and inspired by the involvement and passion of the local people. When the village representatives request a kindergarten, the Sister gives them a list of jobs to do. The village chief decides the location of the hut, the volunteers build it, the wider community (several villages surround and are involved in each kindy) create a Parents and Citizens Committee who are to meet regularly and appoint the volunteers. The volunteers include the teachers, cooks, and groundsman and a person who travels to the convent each Monday to collect the week’s ingredients for the children’s lunches.
Secondly, I hadn’t realised the impact our friendship was having on the adults of the villages. One village chief, in a particularly remote location with bad farming conditions, said to us, “We told our neighbours here that you were coming to visit, but they didn’t believe us. No one visits us. We are the forgotten ones, the neglected. You have not forgotten us. And our children are not hungry because of the gifts you give. Thank you.” The pain in his voice would melt the hardest of hearts as would his gratitude. A leading teacher at another kindy, passionately stirred up the hearts of the gathered people as she proclaimed why and how the kindergarten is a point of pride and hope for their community. Her courage was palpable.
Thirdly, I finally understood the consequence of Malawi having only one rainy season, mainly from December to March in Nsanama. If it rains too much or too little, the people suffer. Harvest time is around May to July, which means that is the only time they can access new food. For us, that’s like the shops being open only from May to July. Accordingly, we now send our major donation at the beginning of the harvest. This means Sr Joanita can purchase 400 x 50kg bags of rice and corn to fill up the tummies for the school year.
Finally, I saw with my own eyes the energy and contentment of the children and the joy and faith of the mums. It was so beautiful to see the children eating their meals calmly and contently, without a care in the world. Seeing healthy, happy kids made my heart sing and I was compelled in my spirit to give thanks to God.
A dancing, singing, clapping, hollering choir of strong mums and grandmothers welcomed us at each kindy. It was humbling to see that the mothers walk their children for up to 3 hours to get to and from the kindies. They stay for the duration and peer in through the doors and gaps of the stick or mud huts to listen to the stories being read and cheer with the might of a State of Origin crowd when the children recite the alphabet or count to 20 or identify the colours of objects. It seems every small gesture is celebrated there as it symbolises hope for a better future.
As a mum of a small toddler, I identified strongly with the mothers and I really can’t imagine what it’s like to be unable to feed your child due to a nation-wide famine.
There is no mistaking that the kindergartens are important to the communities. Surely, when friends from our village in Australia step up and partner with friends in their village who also step up, we have found a wonderful treasure.
This is a great blessing that is made possible by our Village of generous donors are moved to give once, give regularly or even run their own fundraising event. If you would like to join our Village, please visit our website at projectkindy.com, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us at Project Kindy on Instagram and Facebook. 100% of your donation will reach the children in the form of $4/month kindy fees.
Donna Power: President
Toni Dugdale: Secretary
Geoff Smith: Treasurer
Kate Prior: General Committee Member