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  1. Thursday, May 19

    Snapshots from Malawi: Connectedness

    It’s been one year since I returned home from my trip to Malawi with ONE and Heifer International. One year since I dropped my kids off at school on my first full day back then fled to my car and wept. One year since I could not figure out how to process all that I had seen and learned. Over that year I have thought a lot about the experiences I had in Malawi and talked with many people about the trip. As I’ve grappled with a way to explain it all, I think I have finally found the word that encapsulates what our visit to Malawi was all about: connectedness.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    I did a quick Internet search on the word connectedness and found on Wikipedia that in mathematics “connectedness” is used to refer to properties meaning “all in one piece.” Bingo. That’s it. This entire world and all the people in it, all in one piece.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    I wrote many posts last year about the trip but never finished sharing everything that I wanted to. I probably never will share it all, but today, one year later, I want to offer a few highlights that represent connectedness.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when a woman named Josephine in a remote village in Malawi gave her phone number to me, embraced me like a family member, and shared the amazing work she does organizing village savings & loan groups that give people the opportunity to lift one another through pooling resources. Her work is transformative.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when the women in Josephine’s savings & loan group decorated the folding table set up for the meeting with a tablecloth and vase of flowers, as women do pretty much anywhere there is a group of them surrounding a table.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we visited a hospital in Monkey Bay and unexpectedly entered a pediatric room with two children inside, one a toddler, who was all smiles, and another older child whose body was visibly affected by malaria, even in sleep. The child’s father sat at the bedside with a look so worn and heartbroken I felt we had entered, uninvited, into a harrowing yet equally sacred space.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we saw first hand the impact that the Global Fund (where all of (RED)‘s funds go) and PEPFAR have had in saving lives. So many lives.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we took a boat ride on the Shire river through the Liwonde National Park, home to some 2,000 hippos and countless crocodiles, living in a pristine, untouched body of water. All I could think about on that boat was how desperately I want for the people of Malawi to experience development and prosperity, but that I hope we as humans can evolve and creatively find new ways to develop that won’t destroy these natural resources like we have done pretty much everywhere else.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we sat with a group of HIV-positive mothers holding their HIV-free babies, babies saved by CRT therapy that is stopping HIV transmission from mother to child. It is nothing short of miraculous. PEPFAR’s goal of working towards an AIDS-free generation is about to happen and it is a thing to behold.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when a farmer named Mr. Mtika showed us his family’s new kitchen, a separate structure from their home complete with a clay oven that burns wood more efficiently than an open fire. Mr. Mtika mentioned that their family uses one-third of the wood they used to, allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint. The Mtikas don’t even have electricity and Mr. Mtika is acutely aware of climate change and his impact on it. (I’ll just let that sink in for a moment…)

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we visited a small labor and delivery room in a medical clinic on the shores of Lake Malawi. They explained the clinic did not have the resources for c-section operations and emergent patients must travel 30-40 minutes over bumpy roads to get necessary surgery. Under those circumstances I would most certainly not have my youngest son in my life today. The sorrows that room had seen we could only begin to imagine.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when we spotted a herd of elephants, with strikingly dark grey skin, walking through the forest.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when the man from whom we purchased hand-carved wooden jewelry and key chains on the beach of Lake Malawi emailed us weeks after the trip, to tell us that he and his family are doing well, how happy he was to have our support that day and that he hopes we will not forget him.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Connectedness happened…when, time and time again, we stepped off of the bus into a new community and were welcomed with smiles, songs, embraces and love. Genuine love.

    Connectedness. That what it is all about. That’s why all of this matters, why ONE and Heifer International took a group of writers halfway across the world to see the issues, the problems, the solutions, the impact of foreign assistance, so we can continue to spread the word, to reaffirm our connectedness, the very fact that we are all in one piece.

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    As part of our trip we had the opportunity to meet with Oliver Pierson, Resident Country Director at Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Patrick Kadewa, Systems Operations and Power Trading Manager, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), as well as take a tour of the National Control Center for ESCOM. As a follow up to the trip I had the chance to interview the CEO of MCC, Dana Hyde. To refresh, MCC is an organization created by Congress in 2004 with strong bipartisan support to fight poverty by providing U.S. government foreign assistance in really smart and targeted ways. All countries that work with MCC are extensively vetted and each project takes 18-24 months to come to fruition. In addition, each country receives a scorecard, which you can (and should) check out here.

    Dana and I talked extensively about why Americans should care about foreign aid. Dana pointed out that foreign assistance is not only the right thing to do and reflects our country’s values, but it is also in America’s best self interest to provide it to poverty-stricken areas of the world. Dana outlined three ways that U.S. foreign assistance has an impact, all three things that MCC is very good at targeting:

    1. Economic: The untold story of our government’s assistance is that, when done right, it can help provide markets and opportunity for trading partners for American business. We live in a global economy and aid helps with the growth of other economies, which in turn fuels our own.
    2. National Security: Extreme poverty leads to instability, so investments in fighting extreme poverty reduces the need for investing in security. (Dana referenced comments by Defense Secretary Gates from early in this administration about this very issue – click here to read his thoughts on the matter, which are awesome and make so much sense.)
    3. Shared values and a moral perspective. This one is self explanatory – assistance is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

    So, I’ve shared my stories and experiences. Dana has explained why foreign assistance is good for everyone. Now what?

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Believe it or not you and I can have an impact. There is always the option of donating money to different causes and organizations like Heifer International and supporting programs like (RED). But your voice is also as powerful as your checkbook. Organizations like ONE and the US Global Leadership Coalition are constantly informing citizens about legislation and actions we as citizens can take to make sure our government continues to fund foreign assistance programs.

    For example, just today I received a text from ONE letting me know that the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252) is coming up for vote in the House. By responding to the text, ONE automatically connects me with my representative. That’s all it takes, a phone call to say you support the legislation! (Click here to find your representative!)

    Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

    Malawi will forever hold a unique place in my heart. I hope to return. My daughters write letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mtika’s daughters, who are the same age as they are. I hope these girls can stay connected and meet in person one day. But beyond Malawi, I hope that the fire I felt after that trip to tell the world how intimately and beautifully we are all connected never fades. (This is to say that if you ever ask about my trip to Malawi, get comfortable.)

    Malawi, you truly are the warm heart of Africa. Thank you for sharing your sorrows, your joys, your people, your love.

     

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  2. Thursday, October 1

    Mini Molten Chocolate Cakes (a.k.a Chocolate Lava Cakes)

    It’s October, which means many things. Halloween. Pumpkins. Apple picking. And Fair Trade Month!

    recipe for chocolate lava cakes + a giveaway for fair trade month from @janemaynard

    I absolutely LOVE working with the folks at Fair Trade USA and I am so happy to help them celebrate Fair Trade Month once again! Today we have a Ugandan farmer’s story to share, a giveaway and a FANTASTIC recipe, one that I’ve been meaning to share with you for years. I also have a super simple request, which I’ll get to when we start talking about the giveaway. Are you ready? Let’s go!

    recipe for chocolate lava cakes + a giveaway for fair trade month from @janemaynard

    I have always loved the opportunities that Fair Trade provides for farmers, but after visiting Malawi earlier this year, it holds an even stronger hold on my heart. Fair Trade works with farmers in Malawi and I love knowing that the good people of that country are benefiting from what Fair Trade has to offer. One of my biggest takeaways from that trip was that we need to find sustainable ways to help people and advance development. Fair Trade is one of the tools that can help us do just that.

    What Fair Trade is AWESOME from @janemaynard #befair

    Click on the infographic above to zoom in.

    fair trade usa | chelimo annet, ugandan farmer | recipe for chocolate lava cakes from @janemaynard #befair

    The Fair Trade farmer I would like to share with you today is Chelimo Annet, an inspirational coffee farmer & member of the Coffee A Cup Cooperative Society in Uganda. Chelimo has been farming coffee since 1994 and has 500 coffee trees. She supplements her income by growing bananas & eggplant.

    fair trade usa | chelimo annet, ugandan farmer | recipe for chocolate lava cakes from @janemaynard #befair

    Chelimo says that one of the primary benefits of being in a Fair Trade cooperative is that she is able to get coffee seedlings. Some of her trees are very old and don’t yield as much coffee as they used to, so raising young coffee trees is important. Another big benefit has been the additional income she receives for her coffee, which has enabled her 6 children to attend school. EVERY SINGLE PERSON I met in Africa used increased income to send their children to school before anything else. Participating in Fair Trade co-ops gives people the chance to give their children the one thing they want more than anything else – an education. It’s powerful stuff. When I read how she was able to send her children to school, oh man, my heart.

    fair trade usa | chelimo annet, ugandan farmer | recipe for chocolate lava cakes from @janemaynard #befair

    Now that we’ve met Chelimo, I think it’s time for a giveaway! Fair Trade would like to share some of the fruits of their farmers’ labors with you! Today one lucky commenter will get a package of wonderful Fair Trade goodies, including products from:

    Fair Trade Goodies Giveaway!To enter the giveaway, please do the following by Midnight, PT on October 31, 2015 (prize must be shipped within the U.S.):

    • Leave a comment on this post! Easy peasy!
    • Bonus Entry: Please pretty please repin this pin by clicking here. Be sure to leave a separate comment on this post letting us know you did! My recipe is part of a Fair Trade USA recipe rally and the two recipes with the most repins on the Fair Trade pin board will earn the winning bloggers a trip to visit Fair Trade farms in the Dominican Republic. Honestly, I would write about Fair Trade no matter what and it’s totally fine if I don’t win, but it would be fun! 😉
    • Bonus Entry: Like Fair Trade USA on Facebook and leave a separate comment letting us know you did!

    This giveaway is now closed. Comment #26 Kim was the randomly-selected winner. Congrats, Kim!

    Last but not least, today’s recipe. I have been making these Mini Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes since long before the blog existed. It was sort of my crowning glory recipe. I found it in the Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book, a cookbook I received as a wedding gift. I’ve had it on my “blog post topics to write about” list for years because these little cakes deserve a big blog post. I was actually having a hard time figuring out what recipe I wanted to make with the Fair Trade goodies I received and then it hit me: lava cakes! What better way to use a bag of fair trade chocolate chips than to create molten lava chocolate. NONE, I tell you.

    recipe for chocolate lava cakes + a giveaway for fair trade month from @janemaynard

    This chocolate lava cake is the real deal. No cheating by putting a piece of candy in the middle. No chocolate chips mixed in the dough to make it seem gooey. This cake is naturally volcanic and wonderful and rich and chocolatey and gourmet and wonderful. The cakes are not hard to make, I promise. I mean, you are gonna get a few dishes dirty and figuring out when to take them out of the oven is tricky, but the recipe is straightforward and uses ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen. And you have the chance to use several fair trade ingredients, from chocolate chips to cocoa to vanilla, all common fair trade products.

    recipe for chocolate lava cakes + a giveaway for fair trade month from @janemaynard

    That’s it for today! An awesome fair trade farmer, a delicious giveaway, and one of my favorite recipes EVER. Happy Fair Trade Month! And good luck on the giveaway!

    recipe for chocolate lava cakes + a giveaway for fair trade month from @janemaynard

    Mini Molten Chocolate Cakes (a.k.a. Chocolate Lava Cakes)
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book
    Author:
    Serves: 9
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup salted butter
    • 1¼ cup good quality semisweet chocolate chips (you can use bittersweet, too, but it will be CRAZY rich)
    • 4 eggs
    • 4 egg yolks
    • ½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • ⅓ cup flour
    • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
    2. In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter and chocolate chips over medium-low heat. Once melted, set aside to cool.
    3. Add the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl. Beat on high with a stand mixer or hand mixer for 5 minutes. Mixture should be pale yellow and thickened.
    4. While eggs are mixing, grease 9 5-oz. ramekins then coat with granulated sugar. Set aside.
    5. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat on medium speed until just mixed, about 30 seconds total.
    6. Sift flour, cocoa powder and salt into the bowl. Beat on low speed, just until blended, about 15 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with a spatula and give it one more quick stir by hand.
    7. Spoon batter into prepared dishes, dividing evenly. Ramekins should be about ⅔ full.
    8. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the cakes have risen slightly, feel firm at the edges and are softer in the center when pressed gently with your finger. The hardest part of this recipe is taking the cakes out at the right moment! Too soon and there is too much lava, too late and there is no lava. The cakes will have risen about a ¼ inch and look cooked on the top surface. The center should feel softer than the edges and be a dimple. Rest assured these cakes are still gooey goodness even if you pass the lava stage, so don't stress.
    9. Cool in dishes for 5 minutes, then, using pot holders, invert each cake onto a serving plate. Cool 15 minutes before serving. I personally just keep the lava cakes in the ramekins - I think it's prettier this way, it's easier, and it's just as delicious!
    10. Optional: serve sprinkled with sifted powdered sugar and chocolate spirals and raspberries. I never do this. I just care about eating the cake as quickly as possible.

     


  3. Thursday, June 25

    Snapshots from Malawi: Why I Love Heifer International

    Over the last six weeks as I have talked non-stop to anyone who will listen about my trip to Malawi (seriously, don’t ask me about the trip unless you have some time on your hands), I am discovering that not many people have heard of Heifer International. One of my biggest takeaways from the Malawi trip was that HEIFER IS AMAZING, so I wanted to take a moment today to share what exactly it is they do!

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    Years ago at Christmastime our aunt gave us a gift from Heifer, which meant a donation was made in our name to a family in need. It was the first time I had ever received a gift of this type, so the name “Heifer” has stayed with me. It hasn’t been until fairly recently, however, that I’ve really began to have a lot of experience with Heifer International. The more I get involved the more impressed I am with this non-profit organization.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    In a nutshell, Heifer International places livestock with families in over 30 countries (including the U.S.) and has been doing so for over 70 years. Heifer’s goal is to end hunger and poverty through the “teach a man to fish” philosophy, and it works. The core of their model is “Passing on the Gift.” Families who receive a gift from Heifer are expected to pass it on, both by sharing their training as well as giving away the first female offspring from the livestock they receive. This not only extends the original gift but gives families the opportunity to invest in their own communities in a meaningful and sustainable way. And, as I discovered in Malawi, many of these families pass on livestock to others in their community more than just once!

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferI know I’ve already shared Luiza with you, but here are a few more pictures to give you further insight into her life

    Economic independence is the key to meaningful development and reducing extreme poverty, but it is one of the hardest things to accomplish. Heifer has found ways to do just that and we saw firsthand on our trip to Malawi how communities are being transformed in sustainable and long-term ways.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferLeft: Josephine, who has started more than 15 savings and loan groups, thanks to training from Heifer; Right: Petronella Halwiindi, Country Director for Heifer Malawi, who is one of my favorite people EVER

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferThe chief of Gomani village (in the brightly colored shirt) addresses our delegation, explaining the impact of Heifer’s work on the village at large. I kid you not, “We Are the World” was playing on a radio in the background while he spoke. Coincidence? I think not. This is the same village where people were singing and dancing the WHOLE TIME we were there, at least an hour. Gomani wins the Most Village Spirit superlative!

    One of the biggest reasons I think Heifer is so successful is because they work within the communities they serve. Heifer employees on the ground are locals, so they understand the culture and politics of the communities where they are working. For example, in Malawi the Heifer team works with tribal chiefs to identify families that would be the best recipients of livestock. Families that are chosen are vetted thoroughly and often go on to become lead farmers in their villages, like Mr. Mtika, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferHeifer lead farmer Mr. Mtika

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferMrs. Mtika and daughter Dorothy bid our group farewell. (Take note of Mrs. Mtika’s skirt.)

    I also love that Heifer isn’t just about giving away cows and goats and calling it a day. Heifer employs many different “interventions” in the countries where they work, including disaster risk reduction, low carbon technology, village savings & loan groups, agroforestry, irrigation, livestock (which I already described), seed systems, conservation & agriculture, post harvest management, gender & family, and more. As Heifer works within communities, they identify the best interventions for each situation. For example, in Malawi they have assisted in creating milk bulking co-ops where farmers can sell their milk. We visited two of these co-ops, which were impressive facilities that were led and run by Malawians.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferPhotos of milk bulking co-op in Mchinji district. (Check out the skirt!)

    On the last day in Malawi we visited three farmer families in the Thoylo district. The first farmer had been working with Heifer for 6 months, the second was in the process of building a pen for livestock she would soon be receiving from Heifer, and the third farmer had not yet begun working with Heifer. I keep using the word amazing, but it was amazing to see the transformation these families go through when working with Heifer. The differences in quality of life between the first and third families was striking and it made me excited for the woman who would soon be working with Heifer and needed the help so desperately.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferJanuary, began working with Heifer 6 months ago to gain additional support for the cow she received through FDIP, a government project

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferRhoda, who is currently preparing her pen to receive a dairy cow distributed by Heifer International under the MDIP project 

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferGertrude, a widowed mother of six who lost half of her home to catastrophic rains earlier this year; her cow produces significantly less milk than the cows owned by Heifer farmers; Gertrude will soon begin working with Heifer for additional training and support (Photo credit: Jeannine Harvey, ONE)

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferRomani, a Heifer farmer, and his wife; His initial gift of livestock was a “pass on”

    Lastly, the Malawians we met who have worked with Heifer International really love Heifer. A lot. You can see it in their faces, in their songs, in their embraces. You can see the personal connections the Heifer employees have with the villagers. Farmers at all our stops were wearing Heifer fabric, fabric they bought at cost from Heifer. You could tell that Heifer farmers were incredibly proud to be Heifer farmers.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferWe saw Heifer fabric everywhere we went!

    I could go on and on, but I’m going to resist the urge to write a book and just keep this to a really long blog post. 😉 I’ll end with this: If you’re ever looking for an organization to donate to, Heifer is an excellent choice. Donor money is used responsibly and effectively and it is truly changing people’s lives.

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferLucia, one of Mr. Mtika’s neighbors and recipient of a “pass on” gift

    Plus, it’s fun to go “shopping” with Heifer! My kids gave Nate and their grandpas animals for Father’s Day this year. The dads had a choice between flocks of chicks, ducks, geese or honeybees. We ended up gifting chicks and ducks and the kids loved it! There are many ways to support Heifer – click here to see more!

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheifer

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferThe Mtika’s goat pen…and goats!

    I am now a Heifer Lifer, just like the people I met in Malawi. If I wore headscarves, you’d better believe I’d have one made from Heifer fabric! I’ll just have to wear my Heifer t-shirt instead. Not quite as festive but still gets the message across!

    snapshots from malawi: the work of heifer international #oneheiferGomani village (Photo credit: Allison Stephens, Heifer International)

    In case you were wondering, a “heifer” is a young, female cow that has not yet borne a calf. Now you’re smarter. You’re welcome.

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  4. Thursday, June 4

    Snapshots from Malawi: Lights Out

    Last night our power went out. First at 8:45 pm for just a minute or two, then again at around 10:00 pm for an hour or so. I was folding laundry and had to hold a flashlight under my arm to complete the task. I didn’t get to finish watching an episode of Damages. We had to brush our teeth in the dark. It was rough. {Italics appearing in the role of Sarcasm today.}

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    I jokingly said to Nate that I must have brought back the “Spirit of Malawi” with me, i.e. constant power outages. Nate asked if that really happens a lot in Malawi and I was like, “Um, pretty much ALL THE TIME” and then proceeded to rattle off all kinds of interesting yet discouraging facts about the state of electricity in Malawi.

    Before my trip to Malawi, ONE mailed a binder filled with information about the country and the various foreign aid groups that we would be visiting and learning about. One of the many statistics I read was that only 9% of Malawians are connected to the electrical grid. That’s right, 9% of Malawi has electricity (only 0.4% of rural Malawi), which means 14 million Malawians do NOT have electricity. While reading that number was both shocking and thought provoking, actually visiting Malawi and talking to the people about the problems with electricity was incredibly eye opening. Every site we visited is impacted by electricity (or the lack thereof) in some way, from homes to businesses to hospitals and more.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | by @janemaynard

    The country has only 350 megawatts of generation capacity. For comparison’s sake, Nigeria generates over 4,000 megawatts and the United States generates over 1,000 GIGAwatts annually. Essentially, it’s no comparison. And the 350 megawatts Malawi does have is not sufficient to meet current demands. They would need 400 megawatts just to cover the 9% of Malawi now on the grid.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    We had the opportunity to meet with Oliver Pierson, Resident Country Director at Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Patrick Kadewa, Systems Operations and Power Trading Manager, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), as well as take a tour of the National Control Center for ESCOM.

    Oliver is an American living in Malawi managing a $350 million dollar project that MCC has in place to improve Malawi’s electrical grid. MCC is an innovative and independent foreign aid agency created in 2004 by Congress (with strong bipartisan support) that is doing work to fight poverty in many countries throughout the world (see more about MCC here). In 2013 MCC signed a 5-year compact with the government of Malawi aimed at improving the generation, transmission and control of electricity.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM control center | photo by karen walrondPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    Oliver and Patrick both shared such an abundance of information with us I could write a book. This is but a wee blog post, so I’ll do my best to keep it short. Here are a few of my main takeaways from those conversations:

    • The National Control Center keeps a constant eye on the electrical grid, tracking problems and helping to resolve them. Patrick said their job is to balance supply and demand at all times. For example, ESCOM controls “load shedding” (similar to rolling blackouts experienced in California when power demands are high). Load shedding is necessary to keep the system from collapse. Without these planned blackouts, the entire electrical grid would go down. And, even with this vigilant eye, the electrical grid does in fact crash. That means the ENTIRE COUNTRY has a blackout at the same time. I asked Patrick if that happens often and he said, “Oh, no. Just four or five times a year.” (Me, responding in my mind while quietly nodding, “WHAT?!?!?!?!”)
    • Power blackouts are not just an inconvenience, they have a significantly negative impact on the economy and the ability for Malawi to develop as a nation. While we did experience a blackout ourselves near Lake Malawi, talking to people and finding out what a huge impact these blackouts have was for more informative than my small experience at a hotel. Some buildings have back-up generators, but those are expensive to run, often break down and are not the norm. Hospitals are especially vulnerable to blackouts, affecting care as well as the storage of precious vaccines. The milk bulking groups that we visited also suffer from unreliable electricity, losing all of their milk supplies with extended blackouts. That means the farmers who walked or biked kilometer after kilometer to deliver their milk to the facility completely miss that income. These are just a few examples, not to mention what daily life is like for most Malawians living without electricity entirely.
    • Malawi’s power is all hydro, generated from 3 dams on the Shire river, one of which is in need of serious repair (an MCC project). Solar is looking like the best secondary option, but coal is being explored as well. I personally have hope for solar. For example, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in California generates 392 megawatts. Patrick said the biggest challenge with solar was cost, which is not a surprise considering the Ivanpah facility was a $2.2 billion project. Installing solar alone is not all that cost-prohibitive, but getting the batteries to store the energy nearly doubles the cost. Despite these challenges, one example of successful solar power use in Malawi is the Lilongwe airport, which runs entirely on 1 megawatt of solar power.
    • MCC employees are almost entirely Malawian. This was a theme I saw time and again among the groups doing sustainable foreign aid work in Malawi – employing locals makes the work far more effective and long lasting.
    • MCC’s compact with the Malawian government is for $350.7 million. The Westfield mall in my neighborhood is currently getting a “beach chic” makeover for $300 million. Just some food for thought.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, ESCOM | photo credit karen walrondPatrick getting his thank you gift for the tour! Photo credit: Karen Walrond

    Thinking about the issue of electricity in Malawi is overwhelming. Talking to the people who are working on the system, however, is inspiring. It cannot be denied that they have their work cut out for them but they keep at it valiantly, despite the challenges of ESCOM’s antiquated system.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, solar light| from @janemaynardSolar light used at night by the Mtika family in their home

    So, what’s the point of today’s post? For me the two biggest messages are this. First, the less than 1% of the U.S. budget that goes towards foreign aid is doing phenomenal work. For the price it takes to renovate a mall we can make significant improvements in the lives of millions of people. We need to keep letting our government leaders know that we support these programs (organizations like ONE help us do just that!). Second, the problems are vast and complex, but we cannot and should not give up. Just like the workers we met from ESCOM, you do the best you can with what you’ve got and continue to work hard for better.

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, village kitchen | from @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: electricity in malawi, village kitchen | from @janemaynard

    The Mtika family (who I introduced you to last week) does not have electricity. Each day they put a small solar light on the roof of their maize silo, which is what they use to light their home at night. Their kitchen is in a separate building from their home, with efficient fire-powered clay ovens that they use for cooking. This kitchen is a huge blessing compared to what others have, yet there is still no electricity. Over the last four years the Mtika’s lives have improved significantly while working with Heifer International, but the lack of electricity is still a huge challenge. When I hear the statistic “91% of Malawians do not have electricity,” I think of the Mtikas, their kitchen, and their smiling faces. And I hope that one day they too can enjoy the benefits of electricity and so much more.

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  5. Tuesday, May 26

    Snapshots from Malawi: Teach a Man and Woman to Farm and They’ll Eat Forever

    Over the last week, every time someone excitedly asks, “How was Africa?” I don’t know how to respond. There is no fast, small-talk response. “Amazing” pretty much covers it, but that word sounds trite and insincere. “Life changing” sounds clichéd, even though it’s completely true. On the other hand, “Malawi was wonderful and joyful and sad and informative and beautiful and heartbreaking and inspiring and frustrating and oh so much more” just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “amazing” or “life changing” does. As a writer and extrovert, I rarely find myself at a loss for words. But my thoughts and feelings about my trip to Malawi have rendered me speechless.

    snapshots from malawi: heifer goats by @janemaynardThe Mtika Family’s Goat Pen

    While I struggle for a good response in daily conversation, there are a few things I always find myself mentioning in these far-too-short conversations. One of those things is that organizations like Heifer International are doing truly transformative work and it’s because of the way they do it that the work is making such a difference. You know that phrase, “Give a man to fish and he’ll eat for a day; Teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever”? THAT is what Heifer (and many others) are doing. And it works. I’ve seen firsthand that it works. People are eating every day because of what they have been taught.

    snapshots from malawi: the mtika family by @janemaynardThe Mtika Family

    Our first stop on the trip was at the home of the Mtika family. They live in a small village in the northern part of Malawi and have been working with Heifer for 4 years. Mr. Mtika is a lead farmer, meaning he helps train others in his community with the skills he has acquired through Heifer. I learned so much from Mr. and Mrs. Mtika, both about life in Malawi and about how Heifer works. The thing that stood out most to me, however, was their gratitude for being able to feed their children. When asked how Heifer has changed their lives, they responded that their children no longer go to bed hungry.

    snapshots from malawi: mtika family by @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: mr. mtika by @janemaynard

    Here’s the thing about Malawi. Poverty is everywhere. Poverty is the rule, not the exception, and the scale is mindboggling. We learned that for a diet to be considered nutritionally balanced, the goal is to get 6 foods into the daily diet. Malawians on average get only 4.3 foods. FOUR foods make up their ENTIRE diet. Even my most basic recipes have more than 4 ingredients. And, for that matter, the targeted 6 is still meager. These numbers were sobering to say the least.

    snapshots from malawi: cooking oven by @janemaynardThis is Rosie Bamoye, one of Mr. Mtika’s neighbors. She is fake cooking for the camera because she’s a good sport like that. These handmade ovens have improved the ability of these families to cook, including requiring 1/3 of the wood they used to need to cook. Rosie told us that she is herself transitioning from poverty to prosperity because of her goats that were passed on to her by Mr. Mtika. She has since passed goats on to others.

    As a food writer I was excited to try Malawian food. I learned quickly on our arrival that there really isn’t much traditional Malawian food to try. When people would find out I was a food writer they would excitedly ask, “Have you had nsima?” Nsima is a porridge-like food made with corn and water. That’s it. Corn. Water. For the duration of the trip I made sure to eat nsima at every meal where it was served.

    snapshots from malawi: cooking nsima by @janemaynardDorothy Mtika (11) making nsima in the family’s improved kitchen space.

    Gin and tonics are especially popular in Malawi. But even that seemingly fun fact was in reality a sobering discovery – tonic water contains quinine, an antimalarial ingredient. Bottom line: food and drink are quite simply about survival for most people in Malawi.

    snapshots from malawi by @janemaynard

    While visiting the Mtika’s village, a little girl in a grey dress was walking alongside me for quite some time. She had a bright smile that was never ending. I finally stopped to ask if she wanted her picture taken, which she did. Funny enough she would never smile for the camera like she did in person, but she still loved looking at herself on the small camera screen. After the photo she asked me something that I could not understand. I grabbed one of our drivers, who was able to translate.

    “Do you have a water bottle I can have?” was her question.

    I did in fact have one and readily handed it over. The driver was curious as to why this is what she asked for, so he asked her why she wanted it.

    “We use it so we can have lunch at school. We put maize in the bottle and add a little water. By lunchtime the maize is softened and that is what I eat.”

    Oh, this sweet girl. My heart just about burst.

    The driver and I asked her if she would take one more photo, this time holding her bottle. After much prodding we were able to get this one, joyful, smiley shot.

    snapshots from malawi by @janemaynard

    During our time in Malawi we did have delicious food, including fried chambo (a fish from Lake Malawi) and tons of Nali Peri-Peri sauce. I actually came home with 6 bottles of Nali because, apparently, I am crazy for African hot sauce.

    snapshots from malawi: fried chambo by @janemaynard

    snapshots from malawi: nali peri-peri sauce

    Needless to say all that I observed and learned about food in Malawi has been constantly on my mind. It has certainly made me even more grateful than I already was for what I have. And I can honestly say that making my daughters’ lunches each morning has transformed from a chore to an honor.

    And, when I start to feel emotionally overwhelmed thinking about food in Malawi, I think of the Mtikas and the many other farmers we met. Given the right resources and know-how they have been able to turn their lives around. These parents are now able to feed their families thanks to their own skills and abilities. It is a beautiful thing and is the key to having food “forever.”

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  6. Friday, May 22

    Friday Show and Tell

    Happy Friday! Hope you had a good week. Mine was okay. It was actually kind of rough coming off of Malawi – I was pretty emotional all week. But whenever I looked at these photos of Allison (from Heifer International) and I jumping in Lake Malawi, it made me happy!

    jumping into lake malawi from @janemaynardPhoto credit: Karen Walrond

    Just two food links for you this week!

    On Babble:

    On Parade’s Community Table:

    You know the drill – share your stuff! And have a great weekend!


  7. Tuesday, May 19

    Snapshots from Malawi: You Came and Held Our Hands to Bring Us Where We Are

    I don’t even know where to begin in telling you about my trip to Malawi. The trip was educational and fun, inspiring and disheartening, energizing and exhausting – it was basically all of the emotions stuffed into one week and I’m still kind of reeling from it all. I am planning to do a series of posts called Snapshots from Malawi over the next several months because that is the only way I can even begin to do justice to the stories from the trip.

    snapshots of malawi: gomani village | by @janemayanrdThe village of Gomani

    One of the main focuses of our trip was visiting with farmers who work with Heifer International. Luiza Mzungu, a 47-year-old widow from the village of Gomani, was one of those farmers. I will share more of her story with you in a future post, but she shared a phrase that resonated with me on many levels and is, I believe, the perfect way to begin this series of blog posts.

    snapshots from malawi: farmer luiza mzungu | from @janemaynardLuiza Mzungu

    As Luiza was talking with us about her cows and her life she said, “You came and held our hands to bring us where we are.” At the conclusion of that sentence, Luiza and her neighbors began to cheer and yell with joy. 

    Luiza is right. Heifer did come to Malawi and held her hand, guiding her to greater economic independence and a better life for her family. But the hand holding is not a one-way action. The Malawians we met wholeheartedly welcomed our group to their villages and not only held our hands but grasped them firmly. These people held our hands, looked us in the eye and shared their sorrows and their joys, their challenges and their hopes. They held our hands and taught us things we could never have learned any other way. They held our hands and proved that the world is indeed small. They held our hands and brought us to where we are today.

    snapshots of malawi: welcome to gomani village | by @janemaynardThe Gomani Village Welcome Wagon. Much more interesting than a basket of blueberry muffins.

    Our first night in Malawi was near the capital of Lilongwe, on the outskirts of town. As I lie in bed that night, the quiet was striking. The silence gave me a chance to ponder and wonder about what was coming that week. As morning arrived, the sounds of birds and roosters began to fill the air and I was ready to go! Honestly, looking back on that night and morning, I had no idea what I was getting into or just how profound the week would be. Sure, in theory I knew it would be a “life-changing” trip. But I didn’t know I would hold so many hands. Those hands have led me to a new place and I look forward to grasping your hands to bring you on this journey, too.

    I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  8. Friday, May 15

    Friday Show and Tell: Farewell to Malawi

    Hello Friends! Today is my last day in Malawi and I’m about to head off to the farewell dinner. As I expected the week has flown by and I have seen so many beautiful parts of this country, met so many of its wonderful people and learned so many things about the challenges Malawi faces. You better believe I’ll be writing a whole bunch of posts in the coming weeks.

    a visit to lake malawi by @janemaynard

    The Internet has been very spotty all week, so I didn’t end up doing blog posts like I had planned. But I did keep Instagram updated, so if you haven’t been following over there, please be sure to check out the videos and photos I’ve been posting. They are among some of my favorite images ever.

    See you in the U.S. on Sunday! Have a wonderful weekend!

    Oh, and, OF COURSE feel free to share stuff for Show and Tell!


  9. Friday, May 8

    Why I Am Going to Malawi

    why I am going to malawi

    When I started college, I chose International Relations as a major, with a focus on developing countries and women’s studies. I stuck with that major right up until graduation and wrote my undergrad thesis about the challenges of creating and enforcing international women’s rights laws. I was very passionate about the issues that I studied and had visions of, well, I’m not entirely sure what my visions were, but I know they involved helping people. From the time I was a child, I was acutely aware of how fortunate I was to be born in the time and place that I was. And I was also always very concerned about those who were less fortunate.

    Surprising myself more than anyone I got married in college (what?!) and we ended up moving to San Diego, where (as a liberal arts major who could write) I started working in the communications department for a wireless company. My work pretty much had nothing to do with what I studied, but I was still interested in those issues and have remained so all these years. And, honestly, my life evolved in a beautiful and wonderful way, through graphic design and blogging and motherhood, bringing me to where I am today

    Three years ago I met Jeannine Harvey from ONE at the Mom 2.0 Summit. We instantly connected on about 500 different levels and have stayed in touch and worked together ever since. Talking with Jeannine about ONE’s goals reinvigorated my interest and concern for the developing world. It has been rewarding to work with ONE over the years, using my platform to inform others about the issues facing our world and specifically developing regions like Africa.

    I can’t even tell you how excited and fortunate I feel to be able to join ONE and Heifer International on this journey to Malawi. For the first time I will visit the continent that I have spent countless hours studying and writing about. I will get the chance to meet and connect with the people of Malawi, a country known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” and see how foreign aid has and will continue to benefit their communities and families. And then I get to write about it, share what I learn with you, help spread the word to further garner support for programs that are helping people in meaningful ways.

    My dad asked me this week why I’m going to Malawi. “So, you’re going to change the world, huh?” he said. I laughed and said, “Of course!” Seriously, though, I am under no illusions that my visit is going to change the world. I am just one person, but I am one person who can tell other people what I see and learn, and together we can change the world. I really, truly believe we can.

    On my flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C. today I spent about 4 hours reading briefing materials for the trip. At one point while I was reading the information about Heifer International I was overwhelmed with emotion. I literally started crying, which I promptly tried to cover up so that the StitchFix stylist and her husband didn’t see the tears streaming down my face. Just when I thought I had it under control, the tears returned. While I was feeling overwhelmed by the sheer vastness and complexity of the problems at hand, that wasn’t what brought the tears to my eyes. I was crying because I felt overwhelmed at the goodness of humans. Organizations like Heifer as well as governments like that of the U.S. are doing truly transformative work to help others who are less fortunate, others who could not improve their world without help. People devote their lives to these causes and do make a difference. It’s inspiring and beautiful.

    I think it’s easy to sometimes feel like the problems are too big, so, why bother? But the fact is we are all connected in this world, more so than we ever have been before, and it is our duty as humans to help one another. I cried on the plane because, despite so much that is wrong with our world, the desire to help one another burns in enough hearts to be a powerful force. People are living up to their duty of helping others and it is changing the world. I feel honored to be just one small part of that change.

    In preparation for my trip I stopped at RoadRunner Sports to get some socks. (They have great socks.) The man helping me asked where I was going to be traveling and when I told him Africa, his hand flew to his chest and he was physically overcome with happiness. He said, “Oh! Africa! It is my heart!” I learned that he was from Liberia and he was, quite simply, joyful about my trip. It was amazing to me how one small interaction communicated so much.

    I look forward to more small interactions with all kinds of wonderful people over the next week. I look forward to connecting with individuals, hearing their stories, and then sharing them with you. And I look forward to bringing home Africa in my heart.

    I’m traveling to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We are visiting to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by US funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

    ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

    Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


  10. Thursday, April 16

    Friday Show and Tell

    Happy Friday, Everyone! I have three fun food links for you today but, before we get to those, I have some super cool news!

    one and heifer international trip to malawi

    Back in the day I was an International Relations and Women’s Studies major at Boston University. My focus was women and developing countries and my undergrad thesis looked at the complications of creating and enforcing international women’s rights laws. After graduation we moved to San Diego and I started working in PR and life took a different direction from what I studied in college, a wonderful direction that has brought me to where I am today. But all of those issues I studied and cared about so many years ago have remained close to my heart. A few years ago I connected with ONE at Mom 2.0. Every since I have absolutely loved working with ONE and using my blog as a platform to support their efforts.

    malawai | photo credit mom it forwardPhoto credit: Matthew Feldman, Research Associate for IVAC via Mom It Forward

    To complete the circle, or, more accurately, enlarge the circle, in just a few weeks I will be traveling to Malawi with ONE, Heifer International and 7 other amazing women writers (Ana, Ellen, Heather, Karen, Meredith, Rachel and Wendi). As I’ve been reading about this small and beautiful African country and learning about the specific issues that the Malawian people face, I’ve felt overwhelmed with excitement, gratitude and just overall “feelings.” I cannot WAIT to get on a plane May 8 and head south of the equator!

    For food links, here’s what I’ve got this week!

    Your turn for show and tell! Share whatever you like, from accomplishments in your daily life to blog posts to great links on the Internet. Anything goes!