Lawrence O’Donnell
Making a difference in Malawi, one wooden desk at a time

And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife.

And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. — 2 Kings 5:2-3

Sometime in the early 1990’s two former MBC broadcasters Zelia Banda, along with another broadcaster (name forgotten) and I were accorded a three-week training tour at Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office (ESARO) UNICEF offices.

The aim of the training was to enable us to learn skills in the production of children’s materials in Malawi. The training sessions, among others, trained us ways in which we engage in thinking like as child, thereby producing attractive material for children’s programs.

This was courtesy of former UNICEF Malawi’s Resident Representative Ms. Natalie Hahn. While my two colleagues earned their ticket to due to their work on the national broadcaster. Some people might question what my claim to fame was; why I was invited to the training that was for broadcast journalist.

The response lies in the simple fact that I had developed a children’s radio proposal. This was after I successfully worked with children announcers during International Children’s Day of Broadcasting at Capital Radio. I became an enthused connoisseur of children broadcasters, coming away with the passion for creating a children’s radio station in Malawi.

But my grand and noble proposal met one closed door after another – including from the people that claim to have been established “in the best interest of the child” – UNICEF. International as well as local organizations either did not have the kind of money to establish a radio station, or simply my proposal was not part of their mandate in Malawi.

As was my manner, then (and truth be told, still is), I expressed my frustration of the donor/charity community. The frustration easily and quickly turned into a cynical regard of donors: they come to Malawi with their briefcases loaded with their own agendas and they seldom champion the real needs of the local Malawian. So, I regarded all donors as briefcase-agenda characters.

I thank God I included my former Chancellor College friend Francis Kakatera. He was the head of the National Commission for UNESCO in Malawi. Around about the same time (1993), I had a frank discussion with Ma Mavis Moyo is a veteran broadcaster of Radio Zimbabwe (ZBC Radio 4). She asked how would Malawi Media Women’s Association help Malawi women – be relevant to them, include them in our passion for equality?

The questions Ma Moyo asked me, birthed the concept for establishing a women’s community radio station in Malawi known as Dzimwe. It was venting frustration with briefcase donors to Kakatera, that eventually earned MAMWA the UNESCO donation for the radio station. Of course, great thanks also go to Gervasio Kaliwo who was stationed in Paris and helped defend the concept.

I tell this story to tell you of how proud, and literary sitting-on-the-edge-of-my-bed, as I watched Lawrence O’Donnell, leading television talk show host, gash over Joyce Chisale, a secondary school recipient of a scholarship from his organization.

Mr. O’Donnell, in collaboration with UNICEF, launched a project under the acronym KIND; this sands for Kids In Need of Desks. The project solicits contributions from views of his show The Last Word (which I watch religiously, after the Rachel Maddow Show – I also watch religiously). The proceeds are then channeled to Malawi, where local carpenters are contracted to produce school desks for use in Malawi schools.

About three years ago, Joyce Chisale was featured after her school received the desks from KIND; Mr. O’Donnell interacted with her and became enameled to the confident but soft-spoken Joyce. She loves to write poems and told an enthralled O’Donnell that she has dreams of becoming a medical doctor.

But Joyce’s dreams fizzled into thin air when her father could not afford to pay for her secondary school education. Such was the fate of a lot of girls, Mr. O’Donnell found. He also learned from his frequent visits to his adopted country for his philanthropic work, that the practice of child marriage was rampant in the country. This was particularly certain to encompass girls like Joyce in the vicious web.

O’Donnell quickly re-mapped his strategic intervention in the Malawi KIND Project to embrace scholarships, particularly for girls. This change in strategy, enabled Joyce to continue her schooling and hold onto her dream of becoming a doctor.

As Joyce talked Lawrence O’Donnell this past week on his popular The Last Word show, unfolded in front of our wide-open eyes and ears, was a program that included a talk in front of 400 guests that O’Donnell and UNICEF organized in Boston. This was a fund raiser that raised money that was then matched totaling over $100,000.00; from there she went to Harvard and held discussions with professors and students – she even put on a doctor’s dust coat and stethoscope and examined a (dummy) patient.

This culminated in an enthusiastic Joyce, whose dream has metamorphosed into becoming Malawi’s neurologist, appeared on The Last Word – talking with O’Donnell like her uncle.

Malawians in the US quickly sent out sms messages to alert each other. Tweeter and Facebook were ablaze with accolades of how Joyce made Malawians proud to watch her converse with the renown broadcaster, without a single mistake. One social media plug said there were no interchanges between r’s and l’s.

Janet Zeenat Karim

May 24 at 11:11pm ·

Stories we love to watch….. Joyce Chisale pens poem in appreciation of Lawrence O’Donnell rescue: the KIND Scholarship Fund pays for Joyce’s and other needy girls and boys secondary school fees in Malawi

At that we say “Zikomo Bambo Lawrence, aGama.”

Esme Chipo Kadzamira Thanks Aunt Janet for sharing this. Thanks to KIND for the noble work you are doing in Malawi. Wishing Joyce all the best. She is bright girl and am sure she will a role model to hundreds of our girls.

Kulsum Hassen Inspiration

Chipha Bwanali Well spoken indeed! She deserves the break she has had. She didn’t mixed her L and Rs, Confident. Which primary school did she or is she attending in Malawi!?

Mlekwa Gondwe Mwachande Hmmmm May God bless this man !!!

Janet Zeenat Karim

May 24 at 10:53pm ·

Stories we love to watch….. 15 year old Malawi student Joyce raises over $100,000.00 for scholarships and desks through Lawrence O’Donnell KIND project in collaboration with UNICEF.

As if all the to-dos of her whirlwind first ever trip to the USA was not already jam-packed, Joyce had the time to sit down and pen a tributary poem for her benefactor. A gashing O’Donnell could not help himself: he orchestrated a photo op moment with Joyce’s chaperone Mercy Chavura.

I join all Malawi in thanking Lawrence O’Donnell. My own gratitude is expressed too: thank you for being a great philanthropist. Truly KIND is not a briefcase charity.

Janet Zeenat Karim is Maravi Post Senior Editor

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