Erin Hempen of Apex could easily throw her hands in the air at each new challenge she faces in her adopted second home of Malawi, Africa. But after 10 years of working with caregivers, teachers and children at the orphanages and communities there, instead she trusts her instincts and forges ahead.
The founder and executive director of nonprofit With Change in Mind is now working to build a kindergarten and community garden in Malawi, and a well that will supply them both with fresh water.
“This is the biggest and most exciting project our organization has undertaken,” Hempen said. “Our goal is to help communities become self-sustaining; early education combined with a sustainable source of local food and water are paramount to sustainability.”
Malawi, in southern Africa, is one of the world’s most impoverished countries. It’s home to 16 million people, 14 million of whom live on less than $2 a day.
After visiting an orphanage there in 2007, Hempen founded With Change in Mind in 2011. Since then, she and volunteers have built a playground, started a daily food program with a newly-constructed kitchen, and in 2013 designed and constructed a learning center for children under 5 years old.
Last year, With Change in Mind brought a group of teachers to Malawi to help implement curriculum and train teachers for the learning center.
The kindergarten and community garden are the next steps to building a more sustainable future for the children in Malawi, who receive no formal education until they turn age 6 or 7, Hempen says. The new kindergarten will enroll 60 students between ages 4 and 6.
You can help: Fundraising for the $20,000 project is past the halfway mark, with only $3,000 left to raise. Construction is set to begin this spring.
Among the volunteers working alongside With Change in Mind is Middle Creek High School teacher Nick Flohr, who will leave for Malawi in June.
“I’m currently teaching AP Human Geography and World History. Teaching these courses has helped me to learn a lot about the world, but it would be so much more meaningful if I were able to travel and see them firsthand,” Flohr said.
“I have been wanting to take a trip like this for a long time so I can experience another culture very different from my own, and hopefully make a positive impact in the lives of others.”
For more information on volunteering, or to make a donation, visit withchangeinmind.org/.