Learning About the Power of Education in Malawi

Rahni Davis, a freshman at Banana Kelly, wrote a blog post about her experience during her high school’s Trek for Knowledge to Malawi in February.

I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity all the way from the Bronx, New York. I was accepted to go Malawi, Africa to build a school with buildOn after having to write an essay, and was still unsure about it because I was the only freshman to apply. buildOn usually excepts students in higher grades. I knew this was an incredible experience so I had to put everything into getting this opportunity. Before going to Africa, we had pre-treks to prepare us in what life in Malawi is going to be like. This also allowed us to get to know each other as ‘trekees’ and focus on our trip to Malawi.

The whole purpose of going to Malawi was to help build the foundation of a school in a developing country. This trip came with many emotions and new understandings. When we arrived to Malawi, there was a joyful ceremony. The whole entire village met the bus as we came in on the only path leading to it. They sang songs in Chichewa (the native language of Malawi), saying things like “today is a great day.” Kids of all ages were there, celebrating with song and dance. This was definitely one of the most stimulating factors of the whole entire trip. We also got assigned to our host families the day we arrived. This was also an inspirational part of the trip because every member of the family had open arms, accepted us into their homes and gave us the best of what little they had.

We worked on building the school for 10 of the 14 days we were in Africa. Each shift consisted of three hours in the morning and afternoon. Having the villagers work along with us on the work site was so motivational. It really showed how serious these people, of all ages, were about having a school in the community. Men did the handy work while the woman carried water, sand, and bricks to and from the work site, or where ever it was needed. The work site consisted of three stations: Passing bricks, mixing cement and, the hardest, working the latrine. Another catalyst that pushed all 15 of us was seeing Jim Ziolkowski (buildOn’s President and CEO) on the work site, working just as hard as us. Jim pushed us like no one else on the work site, reminding us that this was an important project.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was the ‘chat circles.’ That was when every member of the trek came together and spoke about how they felt, or talked about what changed their perspective on life. Most of the time, our trek leader, Rosann Jager, started our chat circles with topics or facts about Malawi. My favorite topics were about education; and we broke it down to how much of an impact it made on every other aspect of survival. For example, we spoke about how education allows you to be healthier; how to protect yourself from major diseases in Malawi, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Education can also allow you to become wealthier. In Malawi it’s a big advantage to understand English and Chichewa. When tourists visit, vendors can have a conversation with many customers. Education is powerful. The chat circles made me realize that we could make an impact on this village that had so many great things going for it. The last chat circle was the most nurturing part of the entire trip. Once again, we came together as a whole, but this time, we discussed how the trip changed us. We had a chance to give voice how we had seen each other grow over the previous two weeks from our adventure.

Before leaving Malawi, we started building the walls of the two-roomed school. It was an amazing feeling on our last day to know the outcome of our hard work. During this enlightening trip, all 15 of us had a moment where we felt like we couldn’t make it because it was just too hot, we were homesick, or we just couldn’t handle life in Africa. But in the end, we had each other’s backs. Trek for Knowledge Malawi 2012 brought us togetherness, love, and a warm heart for Malawi. We now all understand how imperative education is to be successful. You can’t take advantage of having an education with ambitious and loving teachers because some people don’t have anything or anyone to supply education, and they would do anything for it. Life in Malawi was amazing and I would love to go back! So, in conclusion, I would like to ask, “Who are we?!”