A Light in the Warm Heart of Africa
Before I heard Christie Johnson speak at a Rotary meeting in 2002, the only two things I knew about Malawi were a) it’s a country and b) it’s somewhere in Africa. It turns out, I knew more than most people.
Christie was at the meeting raising funds to help 22 Malawian girls finish their post-secondary education. A few years earlier, Christie had taken a volunteer teaching position with a Canadian funded girls’ school in rural Malawi. Until she got there, she had no way of knowing the school was experiencing difficulties. It lasted less than a year after her arrival. When the school closed, Christie came back to Canada, but she couldn’t go back to her old life without thinking about the girls, her students, who she had left behind. She knew their future was, to say the least, bleak. She contacted her father, a Rotarian, and arranged to speak at an Edmonton club. By the end of the meeting she had sponsorship for four girls. After that she just kept going.
While in Malawi, Christie had met Memory Chazeza a Malawian girl who volunteered at the school as a teacher’s assistant. Memory was herself an orphan hoping for a better education. Because she wasn’t being paid to teach, her grandparents thought she was lazy, trying to get out of her fair share of the household work. They did not support her teaching. During their time together, Christie and Memory became close friends.
When Christie realized that she could raise the funds for her former students to continue school, she contacted Memory and asked her if she would help out. Memory tracked down the girls, who by this time had gone home, arranged for their schooling and acted as intermediary between the Christie and the girls. Memory went through a great deal of hardship helping those 22 girls while still trying to finish her own education. Eventually a Canadian sponsor stepped forward and helped Memory go to post-secondary school.
In 2006, Memory obtained her degree in education and became a teacher: her lifelong dream. Now with her experiences, she knew she wanted to help more girls get their education. She spoke to Christie about her new dream of opening a girls’ secondary school. Christie agreed to help. That school is now a reality. It is in phase two of its development with 160 students.
I met Memory when she came to Canada in 2006 as the keynote speaker for the Rotary District Conference. I knew she had a story to tell. Several months later, I approached Christie about my idea for a book about Memory’s life, and Christie suggested I travel to Malawi with her the following summer, which I did.
Since that first germ of an idea, my plan for the book, A Light in the Warm Heart of Africa, has changed drastically. I now see a much larger project with Memory’s story as the foundation for a book that tells the stories of many Malawian women and gives a social commentary on the many challenges that Malawian women face today. With many Canadians looking at the world globally, I believe there is a strong market for this book. I also believe that by drawing awareness to issues like the importance of education for women in Africa, my work can make a difference, however small.
I've travelled to Malawi three times in the last two and a half years. I have interviewed dozens of people and have hundreds of hours of interviews, and my book is coming together nicely. Still, even now, at times the size of the project seems overwhelming. But I believe in my book, and hope you will share my journey with me. To learn more about my book you can visit my website: http://www.creativewhispers.ca and you can find out more about Memory's school by going to http://www.malawigirlsonthemove.com.