Maloto, meaning “dreams” in the local languages of Malawi, is also the name given to an enterprising NGO that’s investing in community-driven initiatives in northern Malawi. Anna Msowoya Keys, a native of the area who divides her time between New York and Malawi, founded the Maloto organization in 2007, focusing on education and empowerment as its cornerstones. She had the dream of giving back to her local community and in five short years, it is fast becoming a reality.
Unlike many non-profit organizations, Maloto works directly with local communities to identify problems and create solutions. “Local communities are the best equipped to understand their specific needs. We believe that solutions designed by local leaders ensure that development is relevant to people’s lives and therefore sustainable,” said Keys. (All photos by Elizabeth Bohart)
One of Maloto’s biggest accomplishments in its short history is the opening of Mzuzu Academy. Citing the lack of quality education as one of the critical problems in northern Malawi, local leaders approached Maloto and asked if Keys could raise money to start a secondary school in northern Malawi.
With bold determination, Maloto undertook the challenge. Mzuzu Academy, northern Malawi’s first internationally accredited secondary school, opened its doors in September 2011. The first class will graduate in June of 2015.
“The opening of such a quality institution in northern Malawi is not only an accomplishment for Maloto but one for the community of Mzuzu as well,” said Keys. “This project demonstrates how working with local people can have a profound impact. Many have recognized the need for quality education institutions in Africa but few have succeeded. The key to our success hinges on our trust of the local community in Malawi.”
Keys has a deeply personal reason why she felt she needed to begin this work. “Unfortunately my family couldn’t escape the devastation of HIV/AIDS,” she said. “In 2003, I returned to Malawi to attend my sister’s funeral. It was the fourth sister I lost to AIDS. I was shocked by the number of children at the funeral because when I was young, children were not allowed to attend funerals. When I learned the children were there in hopes of getting something to eat, my heart broke. I knew at that moment I had to find a way to give back to my community.”
Northern Malawi has never had an internationally-accredited secondary school and the school will afford many children the opportunity to seek a quality education. Although the majority of students pay tuition and boarding fees, approximately 20 percent of the students currently attending are on full scholarship. The expectation is that the number of scholarship students will continue to grow.
“Access to this type of education for these children—many of whom are double orphans— is unprecedented”, said Keys. Scholarships are made possible with funds from Maloto as well as a scholarship fund established by local leaders in Mzuzu.
“Mzuzu Academy strives for academic excellence by fostering independence in our students to reach their full potential. Students are given an opportunity to become independent learners and grow through their access to humanities, sciences, arts and community service,” said headmaster John McGuiness.
One of the unique aspects of Mzuzu Academy is its focus on community service. Part of the core curriculum is designed to engage students in understanding the importance of community service and develop the notion of civic responsibility in all its students. To this end, students volunteer on a regular basis at the Kwithu Community Center, a local community organization led by the Kwithu Women’s Group.
The Kwithu Women’s Group is another Maloto success story. Founded in 2003, the group provided one hot meal a week to a handful of orphans. However, with support from Maloto, the organization now serves hundreds of women and children. Activities at the center include a feeding program for vulnerable children, afterschool activities for primary school students, and empowerment initiatives for HIV/AIDS-affected women, including income generation.
“The growth of the Kwithu Women’s Group is incredibly rewarding,” said Keys. “Many of the women and children benefiting from Kwithu services had lost hope before coming to the center. Today, they are thriving.”
Although there are many unmet needs in poverty stricken Malawi, Maloto hopes to continue to make a difference; one child, one woman at a time. Maloto will continue to invest in projects that educate and empower women. “Seeing children receive a quality education and women generate their own income continues to show me that Maloto is truly transforming lives,” said Keys.