Today was a day of firsts. I had my first taste of nsima, the thick, starchy, cornmeal-y staple food of Malawi (think flubber but white). I took my first ride on a Malawian mini-bus, the crazy converted vans that taxi around the country cramming sixteen or more riders in and speeding off before the sliding van doors are even shut. And for the first time today, after a visit and tour of the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Limbe, I can honestly say I now understand what people mean when they say “Africa gets a hold on you.”
The Jacaranda Foundation operates the Jacaranda School for Orphans, the only entirely free primary and secondary school in Malawi. According to president and founder Marie Da Silva, 98 percent of the children attending the school were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The school provides 400 orphan students with daily meals of multi-vitaminated porridge, AIDS education classes, agriculture activities through their vegetable garden and chicken farm, and offers college scholarships to all of their high school graduates. The first graduate from the Jacaranda school to complete primary and secondary school and two years of college now works at the International Commercial Bank in Malawi.
Born and raised in Malawi, Marie (centre) worked as a nanny (for Ricki Lake!) in the U.S. for eighteen years. She lost 15 members of her family to the AIDS pandemic, including her father and two brothers. In 2002, after realizing many children were left out of school in her home village of Che Mboma, she founded the Jacaranda School for Orphans within her family house, converting rooms to classrooms. For seven years, she spent a third of the monthly income she earned working as a nanny on teachers’ salaries and school supplies. In October 2008, she was recognized as a CNN Hero for her work and for the first time donations began to be made by the public. Today, Marie spends her time working with the students at Jacaranda, fundraising and speaking in schools and universities around the world.
One of the converted classrooms at Jacaranda School. This classroom originally served as Marie's childhood bedroom.
Because Marie believes in the power of art, arts are part of the Jacaranda School curriculum. The children learn drawing, painting, music and theatre. They have performed plays in their villages that teach HIV/AIDS education. They also help in painting and decorating the school. Pictured here are wall paintings of favourite books.
Jacaranda students participate in after-school programs, which include music, art, dance and even martial arts. The boy dancing on the left showed up at the school when he was ten years old and orphaned and asked to go to school. The Jacaranda Foundation is sponsoring his education.
Based on the success of the school, Marie said she is planning to build a boarding school in the future, and her and Executive Director Luc Deschamps are planning to build libraries for surrounding schools in the area.