Village life, Malawi

Less than an hour outside of the hectic capital of Malawi, Kangoma village is a rural village set in the agrarian fields and rolling hills of central Malawi. Rural life in Malawi is largely an outdoor and communal affair, with meals cooked outside, mornings starting with chores in and outside the house, many meals taken on the porch calling greetings to people as they walk or bike by to get water from the borehole or to the market.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and certainly poverty is evident in the photos here, but also it is a country of pride, warmth and tradition. Westerners so far removed from what we could see as a medieval way of life often fail to see the beauty in between the hard times. Beyond the assumptions.

I feel deep gratitude to have been welcomed into Kangoma, and even though I clearly stood out and was generally preceded by a crowd of children shouting “mzungu” to announce me, people included me in their daily lives, greeted me with interest and openness. And in turn I was able to witness and experience the muted beauty of life in Malawi.


The Entrepreneurs of Kangoma

Kangoma is community of about a thousand villagers and is self reliant, like most villages in Africa. Without cars or motorbikes most residents are isolated from the city, and most grow what they can although the dry season is harsh while the wet season often floods. Residents draw water from boreholes, have chickens and goats, and community life revolves around church. But day to day life centers around the market street and the small stalls where one can buy or repair almost anything.

The photo series shows many of the stalls and entrepreneurs of Kangoma who work hard to provide for their family, and thus the community collectively, creating a surprisingly vibrant and active local economy. This is a market street as it has been around the world for millennia where goods and stories are traded, vendors only selling a few goods, and only cash is accepted the smaller amount the better. When life is lived on foot, and goods must be carried by hand or head, self reliance and community is critical to survival.

This way of life is in decline in much of the west, with faceless big box stores and drop ship mailing services, vibrant town centers long gone, walking through Kangoma, for all that they lack it was easy to see the richness in this way of commerce and life.


Lilongwe Academy of Science

Lilongwe Science Academy offers forms 1 through 4, the equivalent of a high school education in America, teaching students roughly 12-18, with a focus on science and technology. Founder Elton Chingapa hopes that with this focus students will have a better chance of achieving high marks on the graduate tests in their final year and earn a place in a Malawian college.

Although this is still not a clear path to success in an economy short on jobs, it is a critical step towards it. LAS is only in it’s second year and with plans to grow the school and its offerings aggressively, the future may get brighter for the students of LAS, and surrounding Kangoma village.

I went to Malawi to work with the LAS founders on their story, to photography the school and help them forge their way forwards to better serve students and the community. The work was a privelege and is ongoing, as is the need for better education throughout Malawi.

Although the school website is very much under construction, you can visit it here to learn more!

Why does this matter?

According to the Gate’s Foundation Goalkeepers reports, “To put it bluntly, decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; If current trends continue, the number of poor people in the world will stop falling—and could even start to rise.“

“Today’s booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated, and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth. This helps explain the amazing progress of the past generation in most of the world, and it is the key to spreading that progress everywhere.”

Gates believes in investing in young people, exactly what I did by working to support the growth of the Lilongwe Science Academy, through what I believe to be my most impactful tool, storytelling. If people cannot see, cannot care, then they cannot connect to collaborate. This too is a shared belief. And I think there is also great value in being reminded of our global humanity, that we are so much more alike than we are different, nor are we islands as it is convenient to believe.

We need each other in so many ways, and seeing each other is a good place to start. Check out the Lilongwe Academy of Science to learn more.