KINDERGARTENERS in Malawi have been cheating death since a Brisbane mum made a personal commitment to feed them for the rest of her life.
Donna Power has been sending donations to feed children in seven Malawi kindergarten centres run by the Canossian Daughters of Charity since 2011.
The mother-of-one started a grassroots venture to support kindergarten children in the impoverished country after a catch-up with good friend, Canossian Sister Melissa Dwyer.
Sr Dwyer had been working as the principal of a secondary girls’ school since 2008, seven years after entering the order.
Mrs Power had a life-changing catch-up with the Canossian Sister when Sr Dwyer returned to Brisbane in 2011.
“And she told me in 2011 that the kindergarteners were struggling because the families couldn’t afford the fees,” she said.
Mrs Power began sending $4 a month – or 90 cents a week – to cover the cost of porridge.
She called the venture Project Kindy, and her first appeal to supportive donors – “my friends and family basically” – raised $1200.
Five years and a series of small donations later, Project Kindy has sparked major changes in the Canossians’ ministry.
“We started with one kindy in 2011 and they had 40 kids there, and they had closed down the more ‘jungle’ kindys because no one was able to fund them,” Mrs Power said.
“We started sending them money and now they’ve reopened those six jungle ones a few years ago now, so there’s seven (kindergartens) and over 730 kids.”
Classes take place in a variety of environments – some children gather on the floor outdoors, others sit in mud huts or stick huts.
Mrs Power is now taking the grassroots project she developed over a coffee session to the next level by establishing it as a registered charity.
“I’m committed to this for the rest of my life,” she said.
In coming months, the charity will hold fundraising events to hopefully raise $20,000 by June next year, when the Brisbane mum will make her first trip to Malawi.
She said the chance to go to Malawi would not have been possible without the generosity of her husband Fraser Power, who had promised to help her get to Africa before they got married.
“The first night we met we were just bantering about all the things we enjoy. We had a lot in common, and one of them was non-profit work,” Mrs Power said. “And so I was talking about Project Kindy, and he said – his actual words were – ‘I’ll take you to Africa’.
“And I thought, ‘I’ll marry you’.
“Eight months later we got married, and now he’s given me a travel voucher (for Malawi).”
Mrs Power said Project Kindy guaranteed to send 100 per cent of its donations to kindergartens it supported in Malawi.
She said the group was able to make this promise by operating out of two bank accounts, one to collect donations, and another account supported by private providers who paid for its overheads.
The new step for the charity will also have regular input from Sr Dwyer, who first inspired Project Kindy.
In July, Sr Dwyer was asked to return to the Canossian Sisters’ Oxley house.
“My heart’s still in Malawi but my body is here,” she said.
The Sydney-born sister said children in Malawi were sent to kindergarten not for education but for food.
Most of the children will receive a bowl of porridge at kindy, their only meal for the day.
“Many parents send children to kindy to have a meal, not to have an education,” Sr Dwyer said.
“Everywhere in Malawi is poor.
“It is the poorest country in the world according to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”
Sr Dwyer said the local people thought the sisters and other supporters “were heroes”.
“They are people with nothing and yet they treated us like a king,” she said.
Letters from the Canossian Sisters to Mrs Power over the past five years have been both encouraging and devastating.
In one of their recent a letters from Nsanama, one Canossian Sister wrote of her “grateful heart” for the charity’s continued support.
“Our children are surviving because of your help,” the sister said.
The heartbreaking news was the famine was “getting worse”.
“The sisters are saying they’ve run out of their produce from their last harvest, which was a bad one anyway,” Mrs Power said.
“As a mum, the food (shortage), that’s the thing that makes me cry.
“I can’t understand how those mothers – it makes me cry just thinking about it – how those mothers can’t feed their kids.
“You’re just trying to feed them all the time, and to watch your kid not be able to have food would be heart-wrenching.”
Support Project Kindy by visiting its website, www.projectkindy.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Emilie Ng