In the hopes of gaining funding to continue their work in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa, the EKARI foundation is hosting its annual fundraiser this month, with support from some Seattle University students.
The dream for the foundation began when Michelle Bradley traveled to Malawi for the first time and met Fr. Joseph EKARI Makina, a man who wanted to make a difference in the lives of his fellow Malawians.
Makina believed that there was transformative power in education, and that knowledge was the key to breaking the oppressive cycle of his people.
Meeting him impacted Bradley significantly and, in May 2009, when Makina tragically fell into a coma after a serious car accident, she traveled back to Malawi that summer to do everything she could to help.
“His family just asked that I carry out Joseph’s vision for an education for all,” said Bradley, executive director and co-founder of the EKARI foundation. “That’s how Elias, Joseph’s brother, and I decided to start the organization. We founded it in Joseph’s traditional, African name.”
Although Makina passed away in February 2014, his dream continues to live on as a reality, with a small 23-member team running the organization with the help of various donors, volunteers and interns.
“I volunteer to create awareness for organizations similar to [the EKARI foundation],” junior Jade Pascual said.
What is unique about the foundation is that it is intended to be sustainable for the Malawian people and integrated throughout the community. The students in Malawi elected and decided almost every program.
To give the students what they really need, the foundation involves them in the selection process and the structuring of the programs. A big part of EKARI’s mission is not to just help people, but to empower them.
“It’s very much about becoming a part of the community and understanding their needs and their culture and trying to solve the issue of poverty in the ways that they express,” said sophomore and EKARI intern Alita Campbell. “That’s a very concrete, initial way our organization works to combat [the savior complex].”
A major concern with organizations that aim to serve areas in need is the unintentional focus of its members’ accomplishments.
Oftentimes, volunteers feel too much pride for being a benefactor for certain groups, which is what EKARI tries to avoid.
“There’s a huge problem of people constantly coming and going, having this poverty vacationing experience, feeling good about themselves, and then leaving,” Campbell said.
If any volunteers or workers for EKARI go abroad to stay in Malawi, they are required to stay a minimum of three months. Individuals are not allowed to be involved unless they stay in the country and are part of the community for an extended amount of time. Most of the foundation’s volunteers go from six months to two years.
“It’s never about going in and being the hero to save the day,” Pascual said.
With EKARI being run digitally in Seattle and in-person in Malawi, a new twist has been added to the fundraiser. Elias Makina, the in-country director and co-founder of EKARI will be flying in to Seattle to speak at the event, and people who attend will hear first-hand what is going on in Malawi.
There will be food and refreshments, several speakers and the opportunity to learn more about the state of education in Malawi.
The chance to donate to the cause will occur at the very end of the event, and will specifically be used to fund their ‘3 Meals A Day’ program, with the annual funding amount set at $5,000.
The organization continues to make a difference in Malawi; several students have already graduated from college—some of them the first in their families to attend college and even the first to graduate high school.
The Malawian community has also benefited and flourished through the organization’s influence, forming initiatives like a bakery cooperative, where they bake and sell goods and distribute their profits among themselves.
“The most rewarding part of this is when one of our students receives a job and is able to support himself or herself and their family. What we want is for them to be self-reliant,” Bradley said. “The most challenging part is making sure in everything we do, we are not creating dependency in those we are working with.”
Born out of a vision for a better community, the foundation intends to continue to generate positive change in Malawi, and with this spirit of service, inspire the world to take notice and be compelled to transform lives like Makina wished to.
“It’s about changes that will last,” Pascual said.
The event will be held at the Central Cinema on May 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.