Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” and that’s just what retired Brevard County teacher Nancy Donahue became when she discovered the plight of 23-year-old teacher, Temwani Chilenga, from Malawi, Africa. Beginning with a book and a post on a teacher Facebook group, the two women have developed a strong bond that is inspiring many others to make a difference.
“Teachers were discussing class sizes on Facebook. One was complaining about having 23 students. Temwani asked if the person was joking. This is when I learned she was from a small village in Malawi with over 250 students, and the conditions that she and her students faced everyday were tremendously challenging,” said Donahue.
Donahue was first familiarized with the humanitarian crisis in Malawi when she discovered a book based on the true story, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Knowing that the country suffered from extreme poverty, she immediately asked how she could help. Chilenga said that she needed pens. Although Donahue found a company to donate 300 pens, she wanted to do more.
The smallest class at the school where Chilenga teaches has over 130 students. The school has no electricity or food, and many students quit because they are starving and exhausted from the long walks to school, which can take up to 2 hours each way. This is after walking an hour for unsanitary water from the river.
Donahue learned how the children also take dangerously long foot trips to the city to scavenge for food – which is often rotten – and empty bottles to sell. Many students do not even own shoes and Malaria is common, but medicine is scarce, leaving many to die from the disease.
Learning more about the heartbreaking circumstances, Donahue contacted Linda Garrett, a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society (DKG) – an organization of women educators – to see if the group might help. Juliann LoSasso, DKG World Fellowship Committee Chairperson, said that when Donahue explained the challenges the teachers and students face, she agreed for Donahue to speak to the group. Upon hearing the moving story, members donated almost 300 pounds of educational materials and cash for shipping.
Donahue knew the supplies would help the students’ education, but it was not addressing the hunger. Donahue turned to Facebook again and requested donations to build and populate a sustainable henhouse. Her friends stepped up immediately and it is working! However, it wasn’t enough. She wanted to do more.
Throughout this experience, a bond was developing between Donahue and Chilenga. “At first, I felt like we had a teacher-to-teacher relationship, but our relationship began to transform into something more. I started worrying about her getting malaria, not having enough food and her safety living without locks just as if she was my own daughter.”
Meanwhile, a North Carolina teacher from Facebook was moved by Chilenga’s story, too. She applied and received a grant so Chilenga could visit and soon, she ventured from her small village in Malawi to the United States.
Chilenga was scheduled to fly home when Donahue discovered that her visa would allow her to stay longer. Donahue reached out to strangers from Chilenga’s USA followers, and they pitched in to change her ticket so she could spend two weeks in St. Louis and a week on the Space Coast.
Donahue planned an amazing week for Chilenga, including Epcot, SeaWorld, Kennedy Space Center and the beach. “Chilenga saw things that she didn’t know existed. She was amazed by escalators, elevators and moving sidewalks. She couldn’t believe people had televisions in their bedrooms and how easy it was to access clean water. She had no idea that man had been on the moon! Though these discoveries were surprising, the biggest was the friendships she formed,” explained Donahue.
But Chilenga was not the only one to learn something from this experience. When asked what she learned from Chilenga, Donahue said, “Life changing gratitude, the true value of a dollar, the need for less and how a little money can change a life.”
During Chilenga’s visit, Donahue also hosted a potluck dinner to raise money for Malawi. “I posted an open invitation on Facebook for folks to come meet and hear Temwani’s story. The love and generosity from that evening will be with me for the rest of my life. Many of us cried happy tears that night.” The funds raised are already going a long way. For example, they used $50 of the funds to provide fresh fruit to over 200 of her students. For some, it was the only food they received that day.
Donahue noted how moved she was by Chilenga’s generous nature. “I took her to Goodwill to purchase a used suitcase so she could bring back more items. She had no interest in things for herself but bought many clothes and shoes for children. When she packed, not everything fit. She removed personal items over pieces for children.”
Although, Chilenga has returned home, Donahue’s mission to continue helping is not over. Donahue is currently creating a nonprofit with the goal of feeding all the children in Chilenga’s school. When asked why Donahue decided to put this much effort into helping Chilenga, she explained that while there are resources and nonprofits, there’s none in this area. “I saw a need and felt like this was my calling. Caring for others has always been in my heart.”
If you’d like to help or follow this story, Donahue created a gofund me page
https://www.gofundme.com/it039s-hard-to-learn-when-you039re-hungry or you can email her at