Last week I received a phone call from a wonderful woman in California. She was inquiring about an order for several felted wool bowls to bring with her on her trip to Africa to present to a group of women she is visiting to host a writing training class. Of course, I jumped at that chance once I heard her story and couldn't be more thrilled that she chose my little shop to make a small, but very meaningful contribution to the women of Malawi.
With every stitch I kept thinking about these women and how different we are.. yet how similar as well. Although we are on opposite ends of the earth and live very different lives, we are still connected - as all women are. We become individuals based on the influences of our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and friends and as each of us evolve into ourselves, we also influence others.
Mary is traveling to Malawi to help these women write their legacies - personal and cultural histories that will allow future generations to embrace their values and beliefs. I get goosebumps when I think about it!
Below is Mary's story and you can read more at voiceflamewriters.com
School of Holistic Studies
Global Outreach - Malawi
“There is no agony like bearing the untold story inside you.”
When I woke up that Friday of November in 1999, it was to the dawn of a new era in my life. The only woman I had looked up to since a child was gone. As the sun went to hide that day, my stepfather’s relatives had emptied our house of everything. Not only were my two siblings and I left motherless, but also without a thing to call ours.
That night, I sat down and recalled my conversation with my mother a month before. She had told me never to expect things to come to me on a silver platter. It was then, after our step uncles had stolen from us everything we had, that I realized my mother had prepared me well. She had not left me weaponless, but with the formula to earn as much as I wanted to own. Her life and words would forever be my guiding star. If hard work is what had made her look after us so fervently, then my life would always be in her footsteps. Sarai Tiyanjane Changalusa, Malawi, Africa
This is a story of the valuable legacy received by one woman in Malawi, Africa. In the midst of nothing, Sarai knew her mother lived in her. Malawi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, a country in which AIDS has lowered the life expectancy to a mere 36 years, and where young teenage girls are frequently expected to be heads of households as a result. Children grow up without parents and often without knowing who they were and what their lives meant. Without documentation, the legacies of these families disappear forever.
The women of Malawi thirst for a way to connect with each other and with women outside their borders. While talking with me during my travel there, I heard over and over again of their desire to tell their stories and allow their gifts to be remembered: “Tell us what to do and we will do it!” they cried.
My goal is to answer their cry – to provide the training, tools, resources and encouragement these women need to share their stories and preserve their legacies. This effort consists of the following:
Global Field Experience. In August I will travel with eight women from the United States to Malawi to conduct a series of Legacy and story writing workshops that will help ensure the preservation of values, beliefs and blessings for future generations. Through this project, Voice Flame Writers – Malawi, we will teach women to create a sustainable social network through which they can share their stories and honor life experiences. This training is the first in a series intended to increase awareness of the deep international connection between women and increase the resolve of American and Malawian women to work for their freedom and wholeness worldwide.
Business Education. Jill Dubreuil, a MBA student at The College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, is creating a program in which business students will work first hand with Malawians to share useful business tools, thereby furthering their social entrepreneurial experience and learning the value of businesses that improve communities and better the environment.
Documentary Production. Plans include the making of a video and a photographic documentary to preserve the stories of women, particularly those with HIV/AIDS. The documentaries will be used to promote awareness of the needs of the women in this small African nation.
Cultural Writing Exchange. In 2008, VFW conducted concurrent essay contests, one at JFK University in Pleasant Hill, California, and one in Malawi. Participants were invited to submit stories of how women have touched their lives. The winner of the contest at JFK University received a travel grant to accompany the group to Malawi in August.
The Malawi contest received one hundred and forty-four heartfelt essay submissions! So far, we have awarded nine winners, and each received a micro-grant toward starting a small business. It is the goal of VFW to support every woman who entered with at least a $100 micro-grant and to create a writing exchange between women in the U.S. and Malawi to provide an opportunity to learn from each other’s personal stories and cultural experiences.
Book Drive. In Malawi, many children and adults can only dream of having one book to call their own. Most schools do not have textbooks for the classrooms and have only a handful of books in their library. JFK University has already collected over 1000 books to take to Malawi and start a library.
I want to conclude by saying a few words about how valuable I find this initiative to be, both on a personal level and for JFK University. The first time I went to Malawi was with my colleague Masankho Banda. It was on that trip that I discovered how much Malawian women wanted and needed ways to share the powerful personal statements and cultural experiences that make up their legacies, and since that trip, I have dedicated myself to this calling. This work has also found a symbiotic home in the School of Holistic Studies, where it is an important part of the school’s social action and international engagement goals.
This legacy work helps Malawian women understand who they are and who their ancestors were, and, in doing so, helps them construct a sense of pride and place, and ultimately more empowered lives. This is meaningful and valuable work, and your support would mean the world to this project and the deserving women of Malawi.
“I want to acknowledge and honor the women of this world, whose wise voices for much too long have been excluded and discounted. It is time for the world to hear women’s voices, in full and at last.”
~Teresa Heinz Kerry
Mary Tuchscherer, MA
School of Holistic Studies
Mary - I can't thank you enough for letting me be a small part of your upcoming trip!