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It's estimated that a staggering 91,000 of Malawi's children are living with with HIV/AIDS. Of the 13 million
people who live in their small country, there are two million orphans and vulnerable children.

                     Raising Malawi

A little over one year ago Michael Berg, co-director of the Kabbalah Centre, and Madonna founded Raising Malawi, a grassroots initiative offering lasting solutions to the in-need children of Malawi. “The story goes that it was late last year when Michael Berg decided he wanted to do something to change people's lives. There is a Kabbalistic belief that if your hand is hurting, you don't cut it off, you tend to it. In the same way, in the world, if there are children suffering, we have to attend to them—we can't ignore them,” says Philippe van den Bossche, Raising Malawi's project coordinator. “He knew that the issues were critical in Africa and he wanted to do something about it. So after he asked me about Africa, I proceeded to research the countries there, learn more about the major issues that were happening and find possible ways to deal with them. I traveled to Africa and met with government leaders, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the people on the ground and I put a template together to choose a place to start. For many different reasons, Malawi was the first place,” van den Bossche added.

Malawi proved to be a country ripe for this level of help and change because of many key factors: it is a country that's not at war; there are no overarching issues of corruption; and its people speak English, making communication easier with most who are involved in the project. van den Bossche adds: “We had a presence there, meaning that we had people on the ground who we knew could help us manifest our vision and oversee a lot of the local program activity. We're very new, but we've pushed very fast and hard to manifest our goals and from that we created the program.”

van den Bossche and the team of mostly volunteer staffers are constantly inspired to do more for the countless children living in this severely at-risk country, one of the poorest in the world. Van den Bossche tell us: “There are so many stories that exemplify the issues on the ground. They are all very moving and haunt me in a way, but also inspire me at the same time to do more. There's one story that really stands out for me. The most striking thing happened on my first trip there when I went to visit what they call a child-led household (because it's common in these kinds of areas to have the oldest person in a household be 10 years old). There was this little boy that I connected with and I wanted to do everything I could to help him, but it was very difficult to do. He was the head of his household. He was about ten years old, I estimated. There' s not much you can do because if I gave him money, people would steal it from him and possibly beat him up, too. The only thing I could do was give him some attention, love, a smile and make him feel really special. When I went back on my second trip, I was searching for him and I couldn't find him. It turned out that he had died in the interim because he was HIV/AIDS. Those are the kinds of stories that happen all the time. There is tremendous loss in Malawi and when you experience it first-hand, when you make that connection and then lose somebody, it inspires you to want to make every child not have to deal with that. It's sad but it's also motivational. It motivates me and everybody to want to do more.”

Because of the astounding death rate, Raising Malawi's mission is to lift up these children from powerlessness to self-empowerment in the wake of this pandemic. 52% of the country is under the age of 16. An entire demographic has been wiped off the face of the Earth, primarily because of HIV/AIDS. “And now these kids literally represent the majority of the population of their country. They're growing up in the wake of this devastation, which will have a tremendous impact not only on their lives, but on the country and in Africa, in general,” he says.

One of the unique ways that Raising Malawi is empowering these children is by providing them with psychosocial support. “The loss that these people endure requires that they get some psychological counseling. One of the programs we have there is Spirituality for Kids. It teaches kids how to transform their limiting beliefs, so they can change the direction of their lives. We just graduated 300 students. We teach this class throughout the world in the US, Europe, the Middle East, South America and now in Africa. It teaches the universal spiritual principle that we are responsible for our lives and we can change the direction of our lives at any point,” van den Bossche tells us.

According to its website www.raisingmalawi.org, the organization has a three-point solution: providing immediate and direct physical support, such as food, medical care, clothing, clean water, psychosocial counseling and schooling; providing sustainability by partnering with agricultural, medical and education experts to teach Malawians how to best improve these areas in order to create continuity and prosperity; and to create a sense of self-empowerment by co-creating a curriculum with the local Malawian teachers that empowers children with universal life skills.

“Our plan is to continue the work we are doing and constantly expand it. If we can create enough of a precedent and enough success in Malawi—which I think we are on our way to doing—then I would say that we'll look elsewhere in other countries inside Africa and elsewhere. It's not the only work we've done. We've done work in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Middle East and elsewhere to provide people with humanitarian relief. We'd love to increase the scope of our activity and grow from there,” van den Bossche adds.

What can you do to help?
Get involved in Volunteer Malawi, a program that inspires people from around the globe to contribute in a number of ways, which includes, going to Malawi to work with the kids, doing home-based research, fundraising and building awareness. van den Bossche urges us to “dedicate and hour or two a week to help children in need—it's so easy to do.” Take an hour of television or an hour of aimless Internet time and put it into finding out how to leverage resources into Malawi. That effort alone would have a huge impact.”

Raise awareness within your individual networks about the issues, so that people can learn more about what's happening. “Africa is becoming a noble cause, but it's still not enough. We have to tell the stories, so people feel connected to what's happening there,” he adds.

Make a donation. “At the end of the day, you can have the best program with the best volunteers, but if you don't have money, those programs are not going to manifest. So the more people can give to these types of programs—and I would recommend ours because of our unique approach—the more we can affect these kids' lives,” says van den Bossche.

And he's right. That's why THE FAMILY GROOVE is donating a percentage of our February revenue to Raising Malawi—as we do every month to our featured charities.

We at THE FAMILY GROOVE are inspired by the miraculous outcome that Raising Malawi has affected in such a short amount of time. We are truly impressed by the kind and very human ways in which the organization seeks to foster the Malawians' health, happiness and ability to thrive. Empowering people to create the life they deserve by giving them tools they need to thrive on all levels is precisely the place where real societal change begins. Thank you for letting us be a part of it.

For more information or to get involved, please go to www.raisingmalawi.org.
2007 Feb 1