Local teacher finds 'serious goodness' at African school

Raising money to help teachers in Malawi
By Beth A. Birmingham | Sep 15, 2017
Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour Melissa Barbour enjoys a moment with the kids on the way back from Mpamila school in Malawi.

Waldoboro — Most people agree a teacher's work is very important, and for one local English teacher, a visit to Malawi, Africa, helped her realize how profoundly challenging educating others in a poverty-stricken country can be.

"There is a sense of desperation there," Melissa Barbour, a teacher at Medomak Valley High School, said of her experience.

"Our students don't know what it's like to go without basic human needs," she said.

"It was a mind-altering experience. Nothing has ever shifted my perspective like this," Barbour explained.

Janet Littlefield had traveled to Malawi with the Peace Corps and discovered kids living under a bridge. That's when she started the Littlefield Orphanage.

A few years later, she discovered the kids didn't need an orphanage, they needed support for their education and help changing their impoverished country, so she established Go! Malawi in 2006.

Through the inspiration of Go! Malawi, Lindsay Pinchbeck of Sweet Tree Arts Center in Hope and Argy Nestor, a former educator in the RSU 40 district, went to Africa to work with teachers in the school.

Now there is a director and teachers at the school, and with the help of Littlefield and her husband, Bill, the program continues to grow.

Upon their return, Pinchbeck and Nestor made a commitment to support  professional development around arts education and integration, and Barbour was selected to make the trek.

Nestor said the networking just keeps on improving and growing. "Those kind of doors just continue to open," she said.

"There's some serious goodness going on there," Barbour said. "It was a true labor of love."

"Our commitment is not just about the country, it's about education -- a big-picture kind of thing," she said.

Barbour said through her experience she has a better understanding of the organization and where its struggles are as far as funding and logistics.

That experience is what caused her to start fundraising to help send other teachers to assist in educating Malawian people, similar to her journey.

She started in August, challenging her Facebook friends with the following post:

"As we all know, Facebook is an incredibly powerful avenue for achieving unity and promoting a common goal. Since my time in Mpamila village in Ntchisi, Malawi, my perspective on the importance of education for all learners has broadened immensely. In a country so impoverished financially, yet so rich in love and intellectual promise, education is the key. So, here it is. I challenge my 1,500 FB friends to donate $1, or whatever you can afford, to either Go! Malawi for scholarships, or to Sweet Tree Arts, to help send another teacher to share our wealth of knowledge with the Malawian teachers. Both organizations have websites and an option for contribution."

Now -- nearly $2,000 later -- Barbour continues her quest to send as many fellow teachers as possible. It costs approximately $3,500 to send one person for a two-week venture ... "That's one month's salary for most area teachers," Barbour said.

For every $400 raised in excess, a student can go to secondary school for one year, she added. "Helping children be educated is such a noble goal," Barbour said.

"They don't need our religion or our stuff, they need the tools to help get them out of poverty."

Her ultimate goal is by 2020 to have raised enough money to take a group of high school seniors to Malawi to build the library that student Sadie Cohen has been raising funds for.

"She is such a special, deep person," Barbour said of Cohen.

What was initially going to be a book-gathering project for Cohen turned into a venture to build a library. The Medomak Valley High School freshman decided she could create change with books and pledged to build a library in Malawi for children less fortunate than herself.

Cohen's goal is to raise $15,000. To support or sponsor Cohen's library project, go to razoo.com/story/D46klf or view events at go-malawi.org.

Donations for Barbour's fundraiser can also be sent to Barbour directly at 921 Bremen Road, Waldoboro, ME 04572 or dropped off at Medomak Valley High School.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Melissa Barbour enjoying a moment with Baby Dean on her visit to Malawi earlier this year. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
From left, Melissa Barbour, Mphatso Joseph, and Cecilia Gama at the Go! Malawi school in Malawi. Joseph is now the director of the school. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
A couple of the youngsters who will benefit from the Go! Malawi Learners Teaching Workshop -- Fava and Penina. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
Part of the Integrated Art in Teaching Workshop Melissa Barbour participated in in Malawi. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
Malawian teachers work through strategies during an Integrated Art in Teaching Workshop. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
The "celebration display" on the concluding day of the Integrated Art in Teaching Workshop. (Courtesy of: Melissa Barbour)
Melissa Barbour points to the city of Ntschisi, where Go! Malawi is located in Africa, and explains the water shortage and the three-hour drive to the lake to get water. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (2)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Sep 16, 2017 09:04

There are some really awesome people in this world.  The awful ones are few and far between.

Image result for awesome people

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 15, 2017 14:08

Such a great endeavor and thanks for the informative read.

If you wish to comment, please login.