Blog: 2014

September 16, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

(Tinashe Saka is the co-founder of RiseMalawi Ministries, and has just returned home to Malawi after studying in the U.S.)

I have been in Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa for seventeen days. As expected, I have had many people come to my house to greet me after two years away. Most of my guests are Rise Malawi children and women. While my kids at Rise tell stories about what their lives have been like for two years and how much they missed me, women share about their families and church. Each day,  I am overwhelmed by the number of visitors who come to see me. Every day, I am happy to realize how much loved I am, how much missed I was. All days have been painted with images I cherish. I have stayed with Vanessa since August 29, the day I arrived.
Vanessa runs Rise Malawi girls empowerment program called Voices Awake: Girls Equipped for Change. She has given me a room in her house. Staying with Vanessa has helped me adjust easily. We take turns to cook on charcoal in an open space outside her house. She can hardly use her mini cooker because her house has poor electricity connection. We draw water around midnight mostly after four or five days without water. Her water tap is outside the house just like her bathroom and toilet, a pit latrine. Today, her bathroom roof blew off and the door fell while she was ready to take a bucket bath. It is windy and dusty. Even with doors and windows closed, Vanessa's bed is full of dust and particles. Although the iron sheets on her roof are not well connected to keep dust away from her bed, Vanessa's heart and mine are.  I am adjusting slowly but well. I am thankful for her giving spirit. She has given me space to live, her presence to enjoy and her heart to cherish.

Vanessa is also a teacher at Rise Malawi High School. She told me a story about one of her students, Umali, 15, tenth grade. Umali lives with his mom in a small grass-thatched house that has no electricity. He asked Vanessa if he could use her lights for studying at night. Although he studied hard to pass, he failed assignments. He had poor test grades.  Umali's heart was broken. He kept asking Vanessa what he should do to pass and she told him all she knew but his grades did not change. Vanessa asked other teachers how to help this precious boy. Umali got what he needed.  Last trimester, Umali, who has always been bottom five, was top ten. A light dawned on him. It was a light of success.  Every night, I see Umali study on Vanessa's porch. I am settling down slowly but happily.
Get involved in our work at Rise Malawi Ministries in Madisi Village.
Make a donation on UrbanPromise International website, select an option 'RiseMalawi Ministries'


July 16, 2014

2014 marks the second year of UPI’s Ambassadors of Promise program, and we’ve been blessed to see it grow in exciting ways. Last year, we had two participants and one hosting site. This year, we have 4 students working at 3 different UrbanPromise locations around the world! What better way to share the experience than through the words of our students who are on the ground, tasting new foods, making new friends, and learning much about themselves along the way. Here are their stories:


So far my time in UrbanPromise Wilmington has been phenomenal. I remember the first day that I arrived we were welcomed with open arms, they were very friendly and eager to know about the UrbanPromise in Miami. I was tired that day but Wilmington made it a great day for me. I loved it because they made me eager to figure out how my first day in their camp will be like.

My first host family were very caring, they ask for my needs and they were very caring towards me. That host family made me feel welcomed in their home and until this day they worry about me and ask me how I’m doing. However my 2 host person was also caring for me, she tried as hard as possible to make me feel welcomed and I loved that. I liked the fact that she was scared that I wouldn’t like her but to be honest they will be in my heart forever because just how they care for me I care for them.

My first week wasn’t as hard as I expected, the kids welcomed me and so did the staff, I didn’t feel like I was someone that just joined them, they made me feel like I was already part of their family and like I’ve been there for a while.

Something that I like about UrbanPromise Wilmington is their way of doing things. I always expected UrbanPromise to be one type of way, but I’ve learned that everybody has their own unique way of doing things.

Once I go back to Miami I would like to try new ways of doing things, I don’t think that every camp should be the same way, I would like for my camp to be unique in their own way just how the camps in Wilmington were.

This was an amazing summer that I will never forget, I saw how much I care for kids and that I will love to keep doing this in my future. I grew relationships with kids and staff and they’re just another important part of my life that taught me better and that cared for me.




Hey everyone, my name is Jefry Padilla!!!!!

I was born in Honduras, Tegucigalpa but was raised in a town in Miami, FL called Little Havana. In Miami we have a non-profit organization that helps kids from first grade through high school stay out of trouble. We try to keep them from getting exposed to any negative habits like gangs, drugs, alcohol, and etc. Also by teaching them from what's good and bad at a young age we also implement the scripture of our heavenly father, Jesus Christ, because without him a program like this wouldn't be as unique as it is. Recently I've been blessed with an opportunity to travel and stay three weeks in a different state that has an UrbanPromise within it. When I first arrived, I immediately wanted to pack my luggage and go back home to work for the camp I’ve been blessed to be a part of for five years but I knew I was here for a reason, so I challenged myself and so far it's turned out to be just like home. The host family I'm staying with is amazing, they took me in like I'm one of their own and for that I am grateful towards them. Now it's like if I was part of their family all along. The new camp I was assigned to is called camp harmony (otherwise known as H SQUAD!!!!!!) The kids here are very talented and smart but as all kids, they can be a handful at times. I've been floating around all four groups but the group that I've built the most relationships with is the first group I was ever assigned to when I stepped foot inside harmony ground. They are known as the "The Rockin Roses". Just seeing them come to camp everyday fills me up with so much joy because every kid here has a very challenging life outside these walls. One thing I’ve learned so far from Wilmington is that if you put your faith in Christ you will be at peace. Another thing is camp-wise and cultural-wise, UrbanPromise Wilmington and UrbanPromise Miami are totally different but at the end of the day none of that matters because all the UrbanPromise sites around the world have the same goal; to change a child's life one day at a time. 

July 11, 2014

2014 marks the second year of UPI’s Ambassadors of Promise program, and we’ve been blessed to see it grow in exciting ways. Last year, we had two participants and one hosting site. This year, we have 4 students working at 3 different UrbanPromise locations around the world! What better way to share the experience than through the words of our students who are on the ground, tasting new foods, making new friends, and learning much about themselves along the way. Here are their stories:


Kytara Long

My first week:


It is the middle of my first week being in Miami and i can honestly say i love it here. Everyone is so welcoming and very nice. When i first came here i did not think it will be easy to interact with the other StreetLeaders but they made it easy by introducing themselves to me first. Derrick, the camp director, does a great job with running the whole camp. The kids absolutely love him when he does opening program and is very energetic with them. I can tell that he will do anything for the kids and StreetLeaders to be happy. Staying at the intern house gave me the chance to get to know all of the interns, Derrick, and Jessie, the StreetLeader coordinator. They all were welcoming me into their house. It’s nice staying with them because I get to know the interns very well.


We did not go to church this morning except some people because the rest of us woke up too late, but that did not stop us from worshiping God. The whole afternoon two roommates and I, Jessie and Ty were listening and singing to worship music to thank God for everything he has done for us. This moment had to be one of the best moments in my life. I felt so good for the rest of the day. After we were done we ate lunch together and walked to the site to watch anime cartoons and movies. We were there till about 9 or 10 at night. It was a fun night because we all were laughing and just enjoying the time together.


Rajaun Hailey

Foreign Excursion

So this summer I agreed to something incredible; I decided to go to Honduras, a country outside of the United States, for three weeks. There I would go and work with the UrbanPromise ministry down there: UrbanPromise Honduras. The entire trip was free, which included travel, living quarters, and meals.

How could this be possible? Well, thanks to my one hallway of a school, UrbanPromise Academy, I became an Ambassador. The Ambassadors of Promise program is an opportunity for StreetLeader involved with any one of the UrbanPromise ministries’ AfterSchool programs. My site in Camden, New Jersey asked youth if they wanted to be an Ambassador for the summer, and I happily agreed. Because of the director of Ambassadors of Promise, Margaret Wooten, I am now in Honduras. This is the farthest the program has ever taken a kid. In the future, about two years, they hope to send someone to Uganda and Malawi, Africa.

Copan, Honduras is not so different from Camden, New Jersey. In Copan, there are pulperias which are the Camden equivalent to corner stores. The people are the same; however, people in Honduras don’t smoke as much as people do in Camden. The teens here are the same also. Unfortunately, there are plenty of drop-outs and teenage pregnancies here in turn with Camden. The kids at the Honduran camps are so energetic and just as cute as the Camden kids. I personally feel as though these kids are more respectful and are more considerate of listening to the leaders.

While in Honduras for three weeks, I hope to gain a few skills. Spanish is the national language of Honduras, so I’m hoping to at least have a better vocabulary when I return to the states. In addition, since this is my first time out of the U.S.A., I hope to get more experience traveling. College is right around the corner for me, so going to Honduras for the summer is something that will probably give me experience with being far away from home. So far, my trip has not only been fun, it has been a learning experience. This is perhaps the best decision I’ve made in 2014. Can’t wait to share my experience when I return home.


July 7, 2014

Three young boys remained on stage, all just shy of 7 years of age.  Nervous.  Excited.  Squirming with anticipation, as they would each be called to the solo microphone to correctly spell a given word.

It's the annual "Concurso De Ortografia" ( Spelling Bee) in Copan Ruinas--a small town 4 hours into the mountains west of San Pedro Sula.  The event is sponsored by UrbanPromise Honduras.

Five years ago there was little happening for children and teens in Copan.  But a couple of visionary leaders had a dream.  They dared to believe that a ministry could be built in this place--a ministry focusing on developing young leaders from this community.   They dreamed that Copan could become a fertile birth place for leaders who one day could play significant roles in their community....and possibly start new youth centered ministries around central America.   And its happening.  Sixty percent of the staff are now local Hondurans.

But dreams need to start somewhere.  Leaders don't just magically appear because of good intentions and pithy quotes pasted on office walls.  Leadership is shaped through thousands of moments and situations that call us to confront our fears and build our Spelling Bees.

"Vaso," calls the MC as seven year old Elmer settles himself in front of the microphone.

Elmer pauses.  Silence falls over the audience.  

"V"..."A"..."S".......Elmer stumbles and looks towards the floor.  I wonder what goes through his young mind as he searches for that last vowel.  I wonder if he realizes that this small act of courage will embed itself in his collective memory, possibly giving him the confidence to face his next life challenge.  

"O", calls Elmer, breaking the pregnant hush.  

The panel of judges raise their "Si" signs.  The crowd applauds wildly.  Elmer breathes a sigh of relief, smiles and moves back towards his chair.  He survives another round.  

Ten years from now, when I return to Copan for my annual visit, I imagine I'll bump into Elmer.  I'm hopeful that I'll meet a young man, working at one of UP Honduras' summer camps, serving as a tutor, mentor, role model for younger children in his community.  I'm hopeful that Elmer will have a vision for his life, will have the skills and courage needed to fulfill that vision, and will have his own dream for the future of Copan and his country.  And I'll remember that night, at the Spelling Bee, when Elmer refused to give up, when he said no to the voices of surrender, and found the "O".    

May we never give up searching for that last vowel. 

June 30, 2014

He is one of 40 interns who went through orientation in preparation for the Monday start of a seven-week camp for 500 kids. The interns come from the U.S., Canada and England.

"Ernesto wants to work with children, to make an impact wherever he is, so he came to UrbanPromise. I'm excited for the kids to get to know him," said Jodina Hicks, executive director of the organization founded in 1988.

Shakazulu's story is the stuff of movies and books. In fact, he began writing his memoir two months ago.

His mother died when he was 3, and a succession of caregivers passed away. His 9-year-old sister — one of seven siblings — took care of him until she got married.

At 11, Shakazulu landed a job taking care of a yard in Lilongwe. He took what little money he earned from landscaping and bought five doughnuts at a bakery. He resold the doughnuts, and put the money back into the business, adding more doughnuts to his inventory each day. He reached 65 doughnuts when someone stole his stash and put him out of business.

In the meantime, he slept in places such as a cardboard box under a disabled bus. "He scoured reeking trash heaps for discarded scraps. He was an orphan with no future other than prison or an early grave," wrote UrbanPromise President Bruce Main, one of Shakazulu's early supporters.

An UrbanPromise worker found Shakazulu and introduced him to an after-school program and offered him a place to stay in one of their orphanages, the SafeHaven Home for Boys on the outskirts of Lilongwe. SafeHaven enrolled Shakazulu in school and nourished him with three meals a day. He flourished.

"I no longer lived on the streets. I was one of seven kids in SafeHaven," said Shakazulu, who is visiting Camden for the first time.

He got tossed out of school for drinking beer. "It was not acceptable to do that," he said of the infraction.

Upset with himself, Shakazulu pecked out an email to an American family he knew living in the area, begging for help. He promised not to repeat the habit if they would send him back to school. They did, and he passed the high school exam.

"Main told me to apply to Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, his alma mater. He said, 'You won't regret it,' " Shakazulu said.

A few miracles, some scholarships and a couple of generous benefactors later, Shakazulu enrolled as a freshman in 2013, with a major in economics. Now a junior, the 24-year-old plans to graduate in December 2015.

"I want to go home when I graduate and invest in a business to help raise money to build a school and hospital for my village, Mtengowagwa," he said. "I will create employment."

He also hopes to make a difference as a political leader in the small African country. "I want to be the Malawi president one day."

Hicks calls Shakazulu a miracle.

"I cannot believe his life story," she said. "He is grateful to look at life through the lens of gratitude. He is a boost for young people to whom just eating a meal is a luxury. We hope for many more Ernestos in the future."

In addition to Malawi and Camden, UrbanPromise serves children in Wilmington, Del.; Trenton; Miami; Vancouver, British Columbia; Toronto; Honduras; and Uganda. Young college grads run the various agencies under the UrbanPromise umbrella.

"We have six organizations in Malawi and one in Uganda and they are all thriving,"Creative Director Shannon Oberg said.

Replied Hicks, "Our motto is, 'Give them the tools and start-up funds to save the country.' "

Like Shakazulu, intern Ciaran Grant, wants to help out his hometown of New Castle, England. "A lot of good will come out of this experience. I don't know what I want to do, but I want to give my life to New Castle," said the 18-year-old who just graduated high school.

Though only here a few days, Grant called the orientation this week "absolutely incredible."

He will help kids with basketball, take them fishing on the Delaware and pursue other recreational activities.

"It's a big adjustment being here; there's lots of poverty," said Grant, who comes from a gritty place in Northern England where so many end up in jail or into drugs.

"I'm a little nervous, but more excited. I don't want the seven weeks to go fast."

Reach William Sokolic at (856) 486-2437 or or on Twitter @WilliamSokolic


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