SETTING THE CREATIVE CLASS THROUGH KUSEWERA VILLAGE
A perfectly planned trip to Kenya in 2008 quickly turned to a trip to the warm heart of Africa, Malawi. Tension in Nairobi had been the reason why there was a sudden change. After revising her travel plans, Karen’s first trip to Malawi involved her and her team bringing volleyballs, softballs, track and field equipment to an orphanage they began working with. Her mission to tick off one of her bucket-list items of going on a safari in Africa and working with children evolved into a flourishing community center, Kusewera Village in Lilongwe rural .
Being an athlete herself, Karen knew she wanted to use sport and art to help young people become more confident and to work hard. After a week of teaching the children about new sports where they can be captains and goalies, the kids seemed refreshed and more eager to learn when back in the classrooms. The girls seemed more confident in participating in class activities. After that encounter and feedback, Karen was determined to return to Malawi and establish “Kusewera” which means “to play” in Chichewa, a word that embodies the environment of “playfulness” through sport and art in building up the confidence of young people. But this was not until after a change in leadership in the organization that ran the orphanage revealed the need for her to branch off, after working together from 2008 to 2015.
Built on 13 acres of land, Kusewera Village is a community just recently equipped with a dance studio, classrooms, library, a sports field and sports court, a volunteer guest house and staff housing. They also offer free preschool and kindergarten and after-school programs for primary and secondary schools’ kids. For adults, English classes are taught through Kusewera’s sewing initiative. It sounds like the kind of place you would want to hang around as a young person, especially when the lack of resources can hinder one’s personal growth and development during such key stages of life. But it wasn’t all that easy to build Kusewera village to what it is today.
Despite the strides towards creating equality and gender balance around the world there is still more to be done in Malawi in changing the deep-rooted belief that women have a lesser voice than men. Consequently, this results in women not having a say in critical affairs in society, perpetuating the deep-rooted belief that women do not need to be educated.
The current narrative of women’s roles being restricted to being wives and child bearers, is slowly changing in rural and urban areas. With more and more of society beginning to understand the importance of educating women and empowering girls, speaking up for women’s rights is becoming a collective voice. In the efforts towards creating gender equality, it is the community’s responsibility to teach boys, girls, men and women to respect and understand each other. Through one of their initiatives, Girl Power, Kusewera believes its important to enlist successful women and active peers to continuously educate girls and have open discussions about life, the issues they face and offer solutions that work.
Young people in Malawi show a desire to learn and a passion for fun, and when used in combination, it fosters an environment that allows them to grow in maturity and life. Using sport and art to empower and educate has been a fun way to see children learn in an unconventional way, which makes a difference in the way they carry themselves.Seeing kids learn and use the life skills obtained through their programs implemented in their daily lives brings a great sense of achievement for Kusewera Village. Through building a circle of confidants and mentors in the area, their kindergarten children are graduating and becoming top students in their classes when they move into Standard one.
Together with friends in the Lilongwe community and in other organizations, local advisors who have been great mentors to the staff at Kusewera, their after-school programs are proving life-changing in every sense of the word. With the 10 seed technique, they learn from the research carried out on the challenges and strengths faced by the community. Kusewera Village is built on more one individual’s passion to empower a community; it is the summation of the passion the community itself, community leaders, business contacts and partners have in creating sustainable change and development.
“The key to seeing real change in communities is to have patience or at least try to have some patience,” says Karen. Her experience in Malawi has shown her that there are difficulties and obstacles in trying to effect needed changes which can be exhausting and a deterrent. However, she adds that with the right people within the Kusewera Village circle, much can be accomplished. However, she also shares how she has learnt to follow her gut instincts and not trust everyone, both in Malawi and abroad.
Kusewera Village’s vision to grow the number of kids, adults and groups coming to the community center daily is fueled by their mission for it to really be community-led. Having a strong sense of ownership contributes to the community flourishing around Kusewera, with learning experiences from competitive games, art shows, dance performances and other activities. Currently, Kusewera village is geared up to build a secondary school for girls, a small clinic, an amphitheater for performances, a vocational school and other infrastructures that would make it self-sustainable; that is Karen’s vision for Kusewera Village, the community center first inspired by volunteer work and a bucket list.
For more information on Kusewera go to www.Kusewera.org and check out our Instagram @Kusewera or email Kusewera@gmail.com.