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Behind the Scenes

Meet Ian O’Connor

Ian O’Connor is an emerging project developer and manager in solar and renewable energy. He is passionate about the work he does and he loves connecting with new people. We caught up with Ian to find out more about why he does what he does. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you get involved with Pamoza?

In 2013, I had the opportunity to go on a missions trip to Malawi with a group from Springton Lake Presbyterian Church. I was still in high school, and it left a remarkable impression on me. This trip shaped my character and contributed towards my desire to work and study in the fields of renewable energy and international development.

What do you remember most about your visit to Malawi?

During our missions trip, we facilitated a camp for 900 students at 3 different schools, hosted a medical clinic, donated medicine and supplies, and visited with the community members. What I remember most strongly was how integrated the community was, and how community-oriented the people were.  I will never forget everyone’s extreme kindness and welcoming energy. The people of Malawi were incredibly engaged  and were more than willing to share their time and stories with us. I was left feeling inspired by the way the communities we visited were so connected and lively.

What project are you currently working on with Pamoza? What is difficult about this project? What is exciting?

I am currently working on expanding solar power for Pamoza’s Vocational Skills Development, Training, and Counseling Center. This will be part of a multi-year journey to establish and expand a campus across from their 70-acre farming institute. Pamoza will be creating curricula and training focused on different trades, including tailoring, solar energy installation, carpentry, bricklaying, and irrigation for the farming institute. Pamoza is also planning to provide other resources at this campus such as a library, computer lab, and counseling center. All of these initiatives will be powered by solar energy.

The biggest difficulty is that developing off-grid solar power is very different from my previous experiences in the US, which all connected into the electrical lines that we use to power our homes. When you are developing off-grid systems, factors such as batteries, system resilience, and maintenance efforts are crucial. The most exciting part is knowing that these energy systems are will open up doors for people! This will empower people to learn a new trade, which creates economic opportunity for them.

What made you pick your current project for Pamoza?

In the last year of studying renewable energy at Villanova University, I had many conversations with Pamoza’s Executive Director about which buildings in the Zowe community could benefit the most from solar installations. We chose this project as an effort to benefit the largest number of community members. The system will provide returns for the people of the area for years beyond their attendance at the vocational schools. That is what inspired the choice.

You have been involved with Pamoza since a young age, what keeps you engaged?

With all the various initiatives that Pamoza provides, I genuinely could not think of a more impactful non-profit organization. Through Christian outreach, healthcare, education, agriculture and food security, and economic empowerment programs, Pamoza is absolutely changing lives within the communities it serves.

Meet Leah Hood

Leah Hood is a Pamoza Board member and the chair of our Fundraising Committee. She is
passionate, committed, and not shy when it comes to spreading awareness about Pamoza. We caught
up with Leah to find out more about why she does what she does. Here’s what she had to say.Headshot of Leah Hood

What is your current involvement with Pamoza and what do you enjoy most about it?

I serve on the board as the chair of the fundraising committee. I love meeting people
who love Pamoza. There is a large and inspiring community of people who are
committed to the work we do, but more importantly our supporters are committed to
seeing the people of Zowe thrive. I also love staying connected to international work. It can be tempting to limit our focus to what is in front of us. COVID forced us all to become very local. There is a beauty in that, but I love being reminded that the world is a very big place. Pamoza helps me expand my vision and be connected to people on the other side of the globe.

You recently traveled to Malawi for the first time. Tell us about what struck you most during your time there?

I was really struck by the commitment of the field staff to building relationships with
people. Pamoza is very sensitive to the realities of life in rural Malawi. Our work is
organized around making sure each model in all of our program areas can be replicated
by the local people we serve. It might be faster to come in and do it “for” people… but
when you do things “with” people, that is when the true power of pamoza comes to life.

Leah traveling in rural Malawi

What is your favorite Pamoza program and why?

How can I pick a favorite? I love them all! That was the best part of being in Malawi —
getting a chance to see all our programs up close. The school breakfast programs,
demonstration garden, sewing classes, and pastors’ training were all very inspiring!

Is there anything new you have learned about yourself through your volunteer work with Pamoza?

I was reminded of how much I enjoy experiencing things first-hand. I’ve been connected
to Pamoza for many years, but I feel a renewed sense of commitment and energy since
my trip to Malawi this summer.

What are some easy ways for people to get involved?

I think the easiest way to get involved is to think of something you are personally
interested in and find the connection to Pamoza. Is it education, or girls’ empowerment,
or sustainable agriculture, or business, or ministry? Because of Pamoza’s holistic focus,
there is likely something that we do that aligns to your passion. I love gathering people
together, so another board member and I are co-hosting a garden party this fall to
celebrate Pamoza. We look forward to gathering our friends to invite people to be a
part of what is happening in rural Malawi.

Meet Bret Meyer

We are excited to introduce our first Development Director, Brett Mayer, who joined Pamoza in May
2022. Brett is an established development professional with more than 15 years of fundraising
experience. He will be helping Pamoza expand our programs by reaching new donors and supporters. We asked Brett to share more about himself and his hopes for his role with Pamoza.
Headshot of Brett Mayer

How did you find out about Pamoza?

I found out about Pamoza through the LinkedIn Development Director job posting. Once I
began to read about the great work the organization does, I wanted to see how I could help
and be a part of it.

What excites you about serving as Pamoza’s Development Director?

The opportunity to truly make a difference in the lives of others. Many of us take for granted
the joys and great opportunities God has bestowed upon us. We should all want to share the
gifts he has given us and do his work. Pamoza is the textbook example of doing God’s work.

What do you want to most accomplish in your new position?

As Pamoza’s first Development Director, I want to help identify donors and sponsors and
show them how they can financially impact the lives of others. Fundraising is showing
donors or corporations how they can make a difference with their dollars, so my main goal is
to connect corporations and individual donors with our mission. With our increased revenue,
I hope we will be able to serve even more families.

How can the extended Pamoza family support you in your role?

Supporting me in my role is twofold. The first is sharing your stories and the mission impact
of all the work Pamoza is doing so I can share it with potential donors, sponsors, etc. The
second way to support me is to provide me with introductions to friends, family members,
etc. that you imagine could have an interest in our organization so I can talk with them
further about how they can help Pamoza do God’s work.

How has your previous fundraising experience with nonprofits prepared you for your work with Pamoza?

Whether the focus of my nonprofit organization has been education, health care, the search
for a cure, or disaster relief, I’ve connected donors with a mission and their passion.  I’ve
been able to secure support through events like golf tournaments, galas, and walks, while
also working on major gifts.  Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the key to fundraising
is to nourish relationships and to clearly state the direct impact of a gift.  People want to see
the difference they can make in the world, and my job is to help show them exactly how their
dollars are improving the lives of others.
Brett Mayer with his wife and daughters

Pamoza focuses on transforming the lives of children and their families. What does
family mean to you and why do you feel it is important to support families?

My family is the most important thing to me in the world.  I would do anything to protect,
provide for, and care for my wife, daughters, and soon-to-be twin boys.  I recognize that the
family and the community a child grows up in set them up for the future.  Education, food
security, proper health care, and safety are necessities, but not everyone can provide them
without a little help from others.  Pamoza’s work with families in rural Malawi is a small step
toward changing the world overall.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

Most people do not know that my Bachelors Degree is in Music Education even though I
never taught in public schools. My main instrument was saxophone, but I was fortunate to
study woodwinds in general, particularly flute and clarinet.

Meet Roger Shi

It takes many people working together to fulfill Pamoza’s mission. Some of these people work diligently behind the scenes and never seek any recognition. At Pamoza, we value the contributions of all our staff, volunteers, and supporters. That’s why we created this space to highlight individuals who work behind the scenes to help advance our work in Malawi.
Headshot of Roger Shi

For the past four years, Pamoza has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice to place interns at Pamoza. These interns have been critical to helping us fill staffing needs and accomplish significant projects ranging from applying for grants to improving our impact measurement.

This year, we are delighted to have Roger Shi as our intern. He is studying non-profit leadership and slated to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2022.

What is your current role with Pamoza, and how did you get involved?​

I am currently a graduate intern at Pamoza and I am responsible for assisting Temwa Wright, the Executive Director. I became involved with Pamoza through U. Penn’s non-profit leadership program, which requires us to do a 180-hour field practicum at a non-profit. I found out about Pamoza through one of my acquaintances, Albee. She did the internship at Pamoza last year and highly recommended the organization.

You are initially from China and have corporate experience, but you are now interning for a non-profit organization that works in Malawi. What cultural and professional challenges has that presented, and how have you dealt with them?

First of all, I would like to say that I am very grateful to Temwa and the Pamoza family for welcoming me and giving me a lot of support. I can’t say that I have experienced any professional challenges during my time at Pamoza but that’s because of the wonderful way I have been treated. Although my previous experience is corporate, Temwa has given me a lot of support and space to learn about the non-profit world. She has found ways to incorporate my background and skills, which has helped me adapt to Pamoza’s work and culture more quickly.

What Pamoza projects are you currently working on?

I am working on two major projects at Pamoza. The first part is to help recruit a Director of Development, who will be a critical addition to Pamoza’s team. I am responsible for designing and managing the whole recruitment process. Another project is to design an impact report recognizing the 10 years Pamoza has been a non-profit.
Roger Shi working at a computer on various Pamoza projets

My vision for this report is to showcase past achievements through impact stories while also showing the future vision for the next ten years. I will be responsible for pulling together the content, identifying a volunteer graphic designer, and creating a virtual and physical version of the report.

Why should other students intern with Pamoza?

I think there are three very important points in choosing an internship. First, you need to have a team or mentor who can help you learn new knowledge or skills you have never been exposed to before. Second, you need a place where you will be able to have some impact. Finally, your internship should give you the opportunity to interact with different cultures and environments. For me, Pamoza provides all three of these important needs.

Meet Tionge Chile

Tionge Chile, our Program Coordinator for Education, Literacy and Vocational Skills has revolutionalized how we support students, their families, and the communities we serve.
Headshot of Tionge Chile

“I hope to see a self-reliant and sustainable Malawi— a community where all children happily go to school, a country full of graduate and skilled people who can fully impact their families with compassion and love.”

Read the following interview with Tionge to find out what drives him to do the work he does.

Describe the work you do for Pamoza

As the program Coordinator for Education, Literacy and Vocational Skills, I facilitate the implementation of all our education activities. We have five major education projects:

  • scholarships and family empowerment
  • adult and functional literacy
  • school breakfast program
  • child protection and social accountability
  • skills development and vocational training
  1. For scholarships and family empowerment, we provide tuition support to hardworking, well behaved, God fearing, and high school or college students who are unable to afford school fees. We also provide agribusiness support to their families such as improved seed or fertilizer so they can grow food they can sell. This project has helped to transform many families. I have noticed that after two years of agricultural support, many families that were previously unable to support themselves are now able to do so.
  2. The adult and functional literacy program focuses on reducing illiteracy level in the community. Adult learners are equipped with reading, writing, and computation knowledge and also learn agribusiness skills, home economics, and Christian family management. All these skills are helping transform the lives of people in our communities.
  3. The school breakfast program focuses on providing nutritional food to children in primary school in order to reduce malnutrition. This encourages children to attend school, thereby lowering the school dropout rate, which has reduced child marriages, substance abuse, and illiteracy.
  4. Child protection and social accountability activities focus on educating children about their human rights and where they can report abuse through clubs like Pamoza Girls Rise and Pamoza Boys Champion. The program focuses on protecting children’s rights by facilitating awareness and sensitization in communities and forming local dialogue structures like Chief Caucus (CC), Community Activists (CA) and Start Awareness & Support Action- Women. (SASA Women)
  5. Skills development and vocational training aims to equip communities with technical skills and empower trainees for entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. It also provides farm inputs to trainees so that the harvest can be sold and used to pay training fees and purchase equipment for themselves. Since skills are highly sustainable assets for development, this is one of the most transformational projects for people in rural communities.

Why did you join Pamoza?

I was inspired by Pamoza’s mission, vision, and its commitment to helping vulnerable people. When I joined, I was moved by the organization’s approach and Christian commitment. The uniqueness of Pamoza’s C.H.I.E.F. initiative inspires and encourages me to work hard in pursuing my calling every day!

The communities we serve and their vulnerability is another confirmation of my call to service. Although my previous employment was more lucrative, I was not as personally satisfied by the work as I am with Pamoza.

What do you love about your job? What do you find challenging?

I love seeing young people get the required support to facilitate their education, realize their dreams, and impact their community. l like the School Breakfast Program because it not only addresses severe hunger and poverty in communities, but also reduces school dropout rates and child marriages.
Tionge reading the Bible to his daughter

I think the Scholarship Program and School Breakfast Program are the very best programs in helping young people transform their lives and families with education.

I have been especially challenged with the Child Protection and Social Accountability project, particularly that of liberating people from the hold of traditional Ngoni cultural beliefs that encourage child marriages, gender-based violence, male dominance, witchcraft practices, school dropouts, and substance abuse. Through our community programs we have developed and trained community members to bring resilience and change their mindset.

What are your hopes and dreams for the people in rural Malawi?

I hope that Pamoza’s mission is achieved and that the C.H.I.E.F. strategy is embraced by all communities. I hope to see a self-reliant and sustainable Malawi — a community where all children happily go to school, a country full of graduate and skilled people who can fully impact their families with compassion and love. In short, I want to see a saved nation of people filled with the holy spirit who are committed to serve and develop their own nation!Tionge assessing a household's need for scholarship support

What is one educational impact story that really sticks out to you?

The story of Linda Nkhata, a widow and chronically ill mother of four children. Because of poverty, she fled to South Africa for greener pastures so that she can support her children’s education. Due to her health condition, Linda couldn’t cope with the tough situation in South Africa and returned home.

When she came to Pamoza International asking for tailoring training at the Skills Development Center, we saw her passion and the challenging situation she was in, so we assigned Wongani Chibaka to train her and also provided a scholarship to her daughter Eveles Mapala based on her school performance and good behavior. Eveles is still at Euthini secondary school, and this year she has even received a government scholarship! Today with the technical skills she got through the Skills Center, Linda is running her own tailoring shop and employed other women to help her run the shop. She is now able to support her other children’s education on her own and the rest of her family with all basic needs.

I consider Linda as one of the hardworking women who have managed to challenge poverty despite being a widow and having a chronic illness. The commitment and hardworking spirit of Linda encourages me to work toward Pamoza’s ongoing mission to transform our communities and how best we can facilitate this. Today she is a model to single mothers and all people living with HIV in her community— a true testimony for the hopeless! Linda and her daughter Eveles are extremely grateful to Pamoza International.

How can we pray for you?

Please pray for:

  • Continued mutual family relationships, faithfulness, love, fellowship, and spiritual growth.
  • Career development—I am planning to do a Master’s of Science in Transformative Community Development with Mzuzu University, which will help to enrich my knowledge and skills in service delivery.
  • To be continually inspired in the delivery of services with compassion and commitment, to have an impact with lasting solutions, and to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

Meet Melissa Nyoni

Melissa Nyoni has been with Pamoza since the very beginning, way before we even became an official non-profit organization.
Melissa is thoughtful, diligent, and committed to the work that we do in Malawi. She is Pamoza’s co-founder, first Executive Director, current Board Chair, and “honorary Malawian.”Headshot of Melissa Nyoni

Those of you who have supported Pamoza for a long time might already know her story, but many of you do not. So we took a moment to interview Melissa so we can all learn more about who she is and how she became involved with Pamoza.

When you were just 21 years old, you decided to leave the U.S. and live in Malawi. What led you to that decision?

When I was in college in 2003, I took a class called “Poverty, Oppression and Development in Africa.” It was taught by Dr. Mike Mtika. This class involved a two-week trip to Malawi. During that time we got to spend three days staying overnight with a family in Zowe. We conducted interviews and learned about the people and the culture. I absolutely loved the experience.Melissa and Bethany (who also went to Malawi) with some of their friends in Zowe.

I was an anthropology major and I felt like I was finally getting to put some of that into practice. I got excited about what I saw in the community and the potential I saw in people and the difference we could make working together to help meet some of the needs that the people of Malawi were facing.

Out of that class I decided that I would go back to Malawi for a year to start implementing some of these projects. And so I did that in the summer of 2005 along with two other Eastern graduates, Christy and Bethany. During that time we helped build a clinic, ran some bible studies, taught in the schools, and got some of the projects started that we were working on in the class. So for me, one year turned to three years and it was just an amazing experience getting the work of Pamoza started before Pamoza even existed.

What was it like staying in rural Malawi those three years you were there?

It was definitely a cultural shock at first. It was very different than living in the US. When we first moved there we lived in a teacher’s house, which was really just a mud hut with a grass-thatched roof. We were also building a brick house that would have Melissa carrying water on her head after getting it from the boreholesome solar lights, but it was definitely a very different experience. We had to carry our own water, cook over the fire, and do so many things that we never thought about doing on our own with no running water, no plumbing and no way of doing things the way we often do them in America.

It was a big learning curve and a challenge in a lot of ways, but it was also very fun and exciting. We made really great relationships with some of the people. Since we lived really close to the school, we got to to interact with the school children a lot. It was such a blessing. They would come to our house where we had lots of library books and they would check out some of the books. We learned to speak Tumbuka by trying to talk and engage with them and that was a really fun experience.

What were your fondest memories?

One of my fondest memories of my time in Malawi in those first three years was starting the breakfast program and working with the women involved in that committee. When we started the School Breakfast Program, the goal was to provide breakfast for the children at Zowe Primary School every day. Many of the students were coming to school having not eaten anything and wouldn’t eat until later in the day and the situation was even worse during “the hungry season” when many families started running out of their harvest.Melissa with some of the original breakfast committee members

So we decided to make a very nutritious porridge to help support the children. But we also wanted to do it in a way that engaged people in leadership in the community and allowed the community to take ownership of it. And so when we first started the program, I got to work with a committee of fifteen women, one from each village. They led teams of volunteers for their village to prepare the porridge, and planned and put together the program. It was a really amazing experience getting to know these women and work with them. I saw them take on leadership roles in their community to make a difference for their own children. That was definitely one of the best experiences of working in Malawi at that time.

Can you tell us a little about your involvement with Pamoza International since the time you returned from Malawi? What various roles have you played at Pamoza?

Since returning from Malawi, I have been involved with Pamoza International in a variety of ways. When we first worked in Malawi we were with Eastern University and then with an organization called Giving Heart Ministries. The work was underway in the community, but Pamoza International did not exist until 2011. The work Pamoza was doing was already underway in the community but the actual organization was founded in 2011. Dr. Mike Mtika and I worked together, with a lot of help and an amazing team of volunteers, to get Pamoza officially incorporated and established as a 501(C)3.Melissa with a team she took to Malawi in 2011

During the first year and a half, I served as the Executive Director to help us get started and off the ground. I then realized that as much as I love the work of Pamoza, my gifts were better suited in other places. And so I happily gave the responsibilities of Executive Director to Temwa who has grown Pamoza in leaps and bounds since and it has been exciting to watch. I have continued to serve on the board in different capacities, providing perspective and guidance. I served as the Board Secretary and I now serve as the Board Chair. It has been exciting to be a part of Pamoza’s growth over the years and to see how things have amazingly changed and transformed the lives of people in the communities we serve, and in our own lives as well.

How do you see Pamoza now? What are your hopes and dreams for the organization? What are you most proud of?

Pamoza is now doing absolutely amazing things; things I never could have dreamed possible all those years ago in 2004 when I first stepped foot in Malawi. It’s incredible to see how a group of people, when they are filled with the love of Christ and committed to seeing real transformation happen, can make amazing things come about in their communities. So it’s exciting to see where Pamoza has expanded from just a few projects in one small community to working in over 20 different communities impacting so many lives on so many levels.

My hope and dream for Pamoza as an organization is that it continues to grow and impact lives, and it continues to do that by working together with the people in the U.S. and those being served in Malawi. One of the amazing things about Pamoza is that it empowers people to improve their own lives and make a difference in their communities. It has been exciting to see how that pamoza mindset, not just the work of Pamoza, is helping people to become catalysts for change in their families, in their villages, and in the larger community setting. My hope is that the mission of Pamoza will continue to expand to new places and impact more lives. I know that God has more in store for Pamoza and I can’t wait to see how that unfolds.

Meet Fanny Nkhonje

Fanny Nkhonje is our bookkeeper in Malawi. We are blessed to have Fanny on our staff, but we knew her long before she started working for us. “I became a born-again Christian through Pamoza. The Word of God was preached in my village and I was moved. I surrendered my life to Christ.”

Headshot of Fanny Nkhonje

We caught up with Fanny to learn more about her journey and experience working for Pamoza International. Fanny is one of our hardest workers. She does not shy away from challenging tasks and always seeks to enhance her knowledge for her role. This year, Fanny, who is one of three women on our staff, received the Employee of the Year Award. It was well earned and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

What do you like about working at Pamoza International?

What I like about Pamoza is that the organization is about transforming the lives of children and families and I find that to be the most important thing in one’s life. Also, Pamoza addresses all areas of well-being like in our C.H.I.E.F. Program. That inspires me. Being a part of the organization, I am learning about how my life, and that of my family, can be transformed from one level to the next.

Fanny after receiving Employee of the Year Award in October 2020

What is the hardest part about your job?

The hardest part about my job is that it is very demanding and requires me to work during and after office hours. I some

times work on weekends especially when there are payments to be processed. I have to prepare the vouchers, get them signed, move from one bank to the other, etc.

What is your favorite Pamoza program and why?

My favorite program is agriculture. I love farming and the agriculture program at Pamoza is close to my heart. It shows me that one can really be changed through proper agricultural practices, especially here in rural Malawi.

How has your life changed because of Pamoza?

My life has changed in many areas through Pamoza, especially in my spiritual life. I became a born-again Christian because of Pamoza. Someone from Pamoza came to my village and preached the word of God. It moved me and I surrendered my life to Christ and made him Lord of my life.

How can we pray for you?

Please pray for God to always grant me more grace in life. I believe that every good thing I have in my life is there by the grace of God and this includes my workplace, my family, etc. I would like for God’s grace to continually flow in my life.

Meet Karissa and Brandon Forino

Meet two of our most committed volunteers: Brandon & Karissa. We were so excited when they got married in 2019! We knew that together, they would be a great force for change. This couple volunteers for Pamoza in so many ways – helping us enhance our finan

Headshots of Brandon and Karissa Forino

cial processes, supporting our mission team, participating in our 5K, traveling to Malawi, and building corporate sponsors! So we asked them some questions to find out why they do what they do for others.

You have been involved with Pamoza for some time now. What keeps you involved?

We love Pamoza! From the mission to the staff, every part of Pamoza makes us feel welcome to give our time and serve. Pamoza’s dedication to sustainable, Christ-centered community development is at the core of our love for this organization. I (Karissa) saw this firsthand when I studied abroad in Malawi with Dr. Mtika, and serving with Pamoza has been very close to my heart ever since. Our relationships with staff and other volunteers over the past few years have made Pamoza feel like family, and has continued to grow our love for the work they do.Karissa in Malawi in 2016

One of the things you decided to do after graduating from college was to support Pamoza with a monthly donation. What made you decide to donate every month instead of once in a while?

Giving consistently was something we knew we wanted to prioritize both as new graduates and as newlyweds. Our hearts are deeply connected to Pamoza and we knew giving monthly would not only have the greatest impact, but also was a way to faithfully commit to supporting God’s work in Malawi.

What is one of your favorite memories volunteering with Pamoza?

One of our favorite experiences volunteering together for Pamoza was the Gala. The evening was such a testament to the wonderful work Pamoza does, and it highlighted the beautiful community of staff, volunteers and donors who all make this work possible.
Brandon and Karissa at Pamoza's 1st galaIt was an honor to volunteer for the first ever Pamoza Gala, and not to mention it was a total blast!

What do you think is something someone can easily do to help Pamoza and the people we serve in Malawi?

One of the easiest, but most impactful things someone could do for Pamoza is pray! Pray for the work, the staff, and the people they serve. If you already pray for Pamoza regularly, another easy way to support their work is by joining their recycling program. Donate empty ink cartridges, used cell phones, and aluminum cans which can be recycled for cash to fund Pamoza programs. Think broadly, you can find these items at your work, at home, or even at church!