UPI board member Neil Singh chronicles some of his experiences on this summer's Trek Malawi trip. After reading, we're sure you'll want to come with us next summer!
This summer, I joined a team of 20 to cycle 500 km across Malawi, to raise money for a tuition free school, and to provide a summer camp experience for 3,000 children and youth in Malawi through UrbanPromise International.
To those seasoned cyclists out there, 500 km (over 6 days) must seem like a walk in the park. But until three months ago, I had ridden a bicycle perhaps 3 or 4 times since my teenage years. Certainly I never envisioned that I could ride 500 km across sub-Saharan Africa, averaging 80 km/day. I was caught in my daily office grind - my sedentary lifestyle; I had stopped running, I turned 50 last year, had put on 30 pounds in the last 5 years, and was not a likely candidate for a trek like this. 500 km of cycling - I could never do that.
But a good friend challenged me to come along on this trip. The underlying fund-raising purpose was one that was near and dear to my heart; but to go from zero to 500 km in less than 3 months was daunting to say the least. So what possessed me to say yes, and to push myself so far out of my comfort zone?
I want to be able to tell you that I did this solely to help the children of Malawi who will be educated at a new school, who will be provided food at summer programs, who will be helped at safe homes for orphans and who will be protected at girl's empowerment programs. Those children were certainly part of my motivation, the heart and key focus of my fundraising efforts.
But, to be honest with you, a great part of my motivation for this trip was for me. I needed a re-boot, a fresh start, and a new beginning - this trip, the training, the challenge offered that to me - if I chose to take it. I had a total of 9 weeks to train. My first time out on the bike, I rode a total of 3 km. The second time, I pushed myself to 6 km. That first week I rode less than 10 km total, but each day, each week, I added distance to each ride. My last 10 days of training, I rode over 250 km, including rides of 40, 50 and 60 km. I discovered areas of the city that I never knew existed, beautiful rides and trails that were now open to me to explore. I met fellow cyclists who freely gave me advice and encouragement. I discovered that there was all sorts of paraphernalia for cycling - shorts, shoes, gloves, bells and whistles! MEC loved me! I began losing weight, and in fact, couldn't get enough to eat - I was always hungry!
As the trek drew near, I began to get nervous, even scared. What had I committed myself to? Yes, I had been training, but was it too little, too late? What if the
conditions were much worse - much hotter, longer and steeper climbs. What if I failed to meet the expectations of my team (most of whom I had never met and would only meet at the airport for the first time)?
Then, I was in Africa, on our first day, meeting my team, and getting fitted for my bike. The first day on the roads was brutal. It was a never-ending climb, the hill that just kept on going. We climbed for hours. I'd never done a hill like that. In hindsight, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it sure felt hard as a first leg. Yet something happened during that first leg, that set the tone for the rest of the trek. The team, which included some very experienced riders and some real beginners, rallied together. Yes, everyone had to climb the hills as individuals, but our experienced riders provided advice and coached us as a team. There were water breaks right when you needed them. We refreshed and recharged, and we kept going. Before you knew it, we'd done the first day, 65 km done.
The pattern repeated. Our strongest riders stepped up and led, they guided those of us who lagged, they encouraged when we needed encouragement. Then, suddenly, we middle of the pack riders began to step up for each other. "Yes, that was a brutal hill. Yes, tomorrow's climb is daunting. But you can do it. We can do it together." We drew encouragement from each other, we shared together, we prayed together, and we worked together. Our favorite verse was "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
I did not think I could do it. But we not only survived, we thrived. It was a fantastic experience, a life-giving and life-changing experience. We met wonderful people, we spent time with the kids of the ministries, we saw hippos! and we made life-long friendships as we rode together across Africa.
Before this trek, I never thought I could do that. Now, I have gained so much more than I have given. I've lost weight, I feel so much better, and I had an experience with new friends that will be with me for the rest of my life. I expect the ministries in Malawi will remain a life-long focus for me.
Friends, colleagues and family, and my company, all gave me incredible support. I set a goal of raising $20,000 and am just shy of this total ($19,481). I am so grateful for this opportunity. I want to continue to help in any way I can. Every donation helps. Malawi, located in southeast Africa, ranks among the world's most densely populated and least developed countries. Some of the most pressing challenges that Malawi faces are poverty, poor education, a 10.6% HIV/Aids rate, and a massive rate of unemployment. So each time I talk about this trip, I ask you to consider giving. I have learned that to fundraise for a cause you have to (a) believe in the cause, (b) be unafraid to ask people to give, and (c) fulfill the trust that donors place in you.
I leave you with this. If you need a re-boot, or a restart, or a fresh beginning, it's up to you to step out of your comfort zone and grab it. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding, probably in ways that you can not even envision right now. It's not "I could never do that", it's "yes, you can do that!"
Read on to catch a glimpse of life within UPI's fellowship program, as Providence Chigwenembe reflects on her past year as a fellow!
By Samuel Malasa Banda
For Chrispin Bisalom, friendly teachers and a supportive environment are the recipe for academic success. In Salima, Malawi, a lakeshore district where most boys drop out of school in pursuit of becoming wealthy fishermen, Chrispin’s story demonstrates how a local organization can transform one’s outlook on life. As we commemorate Cornerstone Ministries’ third year of existence, we wanted to give Chrispin an opportunity to tell his story:
“Thanks to the physical and moral support I received from the mentors at Cornerstone Ministries Malawi, I am about to sit for my primary school final exams. I am not only ready to face them, but my life has been transformed spiritually, and I am an agent of change in my community.”
Chrispin is a tall boy, and his height has been a burden. Ridiculed by others for seeming too old for primary school, Chrispin was on track to drop out. Though he was not actually old, he had resorted to quitting school in search of any other opportunities.
“I was tired of the scorn I was receiving from younger classmates, as I was considered to be big for my class,” recalls 12-year-old Chrispin.
His fortunes turned around in 2013, the year that Cornerstone Ministries, a ministry of UrbanPromise International, was founded by three African Bible College graduates.
“In 2013, I was in standard four, and that’s when I heard that there was a certain Christian organization that conducts after-school programs for primary school learners,” says Chrispin. “I knew that was the perfect place for me because I would receive additional lessons.”
According to Chrispin, Cornerstone’s after-school program was ideal because it provides the lessons free of charge.
“In my area, there are a lot of after-school classes offered by our teachers, but there is a fee attached which I can’t manage to pay because my mother is unemployed. In order for our family of six to eat she does manual labor when it is available.”
As with the other kids who had joined the after-school program, Chrispin was amazed because the program did not only offer academic lessons. The physical part of him was also taken care of.
“I am so excited to be a kid at Cornerstone because after our classes, we receive drinks and snacks. In addition, we are also encouraged to recite Bible verses and we are taught morals of living,” he boasted.
With this being his last year at the after-school program, Chrispin envisions more involvement with the ministry that has raised his hope.
At the moment he is not only captain of the Cornerstone Ministries’s soccer team, the Eagles, but Chrispin has also consistently maintained being position number three at Kalonga Primary school in a class of more than seventy learners.
“At the moment as I am to sit for my primary school exams, am not even sure that where I will get school fees for my secondary education. But the three years I’ve spent at Cornerstone have ignited hope inside me that everything is possible once you believe in God,” sums up Chrispin.
*Chrispin Bisalom belongs to the first cohort that Cornerstone Ministries started with in 2013. Want to support Chrispin and the other 200 students at the Cornerstone after-school program? Contacting us to learn more.
Of all the gifts you buy this Christmas, none will match the significance of purchasing a bed, sheets, and a pillow for a girl in Malawi. I promise!
It won't be a fancy, expensive bed with a Sealy mattress and brass bed posts. But it will be a good bed. More importantly, the bed will represent something far deeper to our young ladies--it will provide safety, security, and opportunity.
Yes friends, there is some really good news at UrbanPromise International this Christmas.
Because of a few generous donors, we've been able to finish construction on a girls’ dormitory for RiseMalawi Ministries. A dorm that will be home to 50 girls.
You ask: "Why do we need a girls’ dormitory?"
Imagine sending your daughter or granddaughter on a 2-3 hour walk every morning--just to get to school for her 7:30 am class.
Imagine her leaving before the sun rises, walking the first hour in complete darkness. Imagine her walking home at the end of the day for another 2 hours--many of those miles also in darkness.
Now imagine that the deserted paths and wooded areas through which she walks have been sites for abductions and rapes.
You're beginning to see the picture.
That's exactly what our girls in Madisi have been facing for the past 3 years.
We need to protect them.
This story in particular really pushed me over the edge: Ninth grader Sarah was walking home from our high school one day. She was abducted and taken to a small house. Waiting there was a much older man who claimed to be her new husband. For three days she was restrained against her will. Even the local police turned a blind eye.
Fortunately, some of the workers at RiseMalawi noticed her absence. Our girls’ empowerment program team went to the house, rescued her, and brought her to live temporarily with one of the staff. This has allowed Sarah to return to school--and she is excelling.
A new dormitory means a safe place for Sarah and her friends. If we can get enough beds purchased in the next 20 days, the plan is to have the girls into the dorm by February.
That's why I need you to purchase a bed this Christmas--maybe two beds, even three. Just $75 per bed. $50 for a set of linens, towels, and a pillow. $125 for all of it!
And here is some more great news: for every bed and linen set we underwrite, a generous donor will mutiple the gift by 5, with a donation toward UPI’s operational expenses! Up to $25,000!
That's right. You buy a bed for a girl, and UPI receives a gift to help keep doing all of this important work.
So I hope you will respond and spread the good news of God's love this Christmas.
-Bruce Main, founder and president, UrbanPromise International
UPI's Director of Special Projects, Margaret Wooten, recently led a vision trip to Malawi. She took a team of UPI supporters to visit our ministries, meet our executive directors, and witness the work we are doing in "The Warm Heart of Africa." Read on to hear from one of the team members.
We have been home about 36 hours and I have not yet adjusted to the time zones. I am exhausted by 10 pm and awake at 2 and 4 am and up by 5! The house is quiet and it is the perfect time to try and capture the thoughts swirling around my head. I am struggling to find the right words to sum up the last 10 days. To say it was amazing (while true) does not really convey any content. How do you boil down hundreds of interactions, memories, and snapshots into dinner conversations or a Facebook post or an Instagram picture. I want to capture the beauty of the people, the elegance of women who walk with water on their head and a baby strapped to their back, the incredible sunsets that each day called us to stop and marvel at the layers of red and orange and give thanks to the God who created it. How do you explain children who walk miles to school each day? Class sizes of 50 or 75 or 100? Leaders who work all day and then take children into their homes and share the food from their table? At dinner the first night one of the leaders asks, “ why did you come”? A very reasonable question but one that I struggle to answer. To see Vanessa and Tio? To understand Margaret’s work? Because I felt called?
Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and its people embrace and embody it. We are welcomed everywhere we go and I smile as I think of the children who took my hand to show me their classroom or teach me the steps to a dance or who pronounced words over and over so I could understand the words to a song. The girls at Safehaven proudly showed us their new bedrooms and the signs they have made for their doors. I am struck by the fact that the doors are all open. Back at home, my world is filled with closed doors, fences, cars with rolled up windows and garages. It is easy to feel alone and disconnected. At one of the ministries we played a game called “Mingle, Mingle, Mingle.” 250 children and the 10 of us wander around the school yard “mingling” until the leader calls out a number and then you must rush to get in groups of that number. The first call was “two” and a small girl grabs me and holds on tight. As we stand there laughing and hugging I think this is why I came... to connect …with the leaders, the children, the ministries. Mark 16:15 says we should “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” I went into the world of Malawi and a 6 year old preached the gospel to me. I will be forever grateful!
--Teresa Wooten, 2015 vision trip team member