Toughed it out!

We did it!  Though 12.5 miles of mud, ice-cold water, electricity, and even fire,  we finished the Tough Mudder challenge to raise awareness for Dwankhozi Hope.    It was an amazing experience; one that tested us mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Thank you all so very much for your encouragement, prayers, and support.  It helped us persevere through this challenge and raise over $1,600 for Dwankhozi Hope.  I can’t tell you how much this means to me and all involved.

We are still striving to meet out fundraising goal so if you’re interested in helping us get there, click here to donate.

Below are pictures highlighting our experience.  You should get a kick out of many of them.  This was definitely NOT your normal race.  Every half mile there was an obstacle to overcome; some of which required us to dig deep to overcome our fears.  This included …

  • Jumping off of a 20 foot platform into cold water below
  • Worming through 2 foot wide trenches underground
  • Running through electrical wires carrying 10,000 volts of electricity
  • Swimming through 35 degree freezing cold water
  • Crawling through mud, under barbed wire
  • etc..

Alone, I’m not sure we would’ve accomplished what we did. Together, we worked as a team and buoyed each other through each challenge. This is what it was all about.  This is the essence of what we’re doing at Dwankhozi Hope!

Thank you all!

Brad MacLean

Tough Mudder Fundraiser

It’s become a bit of a trend among some of our supporters to take on significant athletic challenges as a way to fundraise and increase awareness for Dwankhozi Hope and it’s always exciting to announce a new adventure of this kind!

Brad MacLean, Marc MacLean and Rob Garza will be taking on one of the world’s toughest obstacle races, the Tough Mudder on February 23rd in Mesa, Arizona, and they’ve added to the stakes by setting a goal of raising $4,000.00 for Dwankhozi Hope.

Check out their Crowdrise fundraiser page for more, in their own words at

And please consider adding your donation to help encourage them as they undertake this incredible physical challenge in support of Dwankhozi Community School!

Tough Mudder Fundraiser



Raise for Maize

Some of you may recall that last year, we ran this Raise for Maize emergency fundraising campaign to raise money for food to sustain the students of Dwankhozi Community School during the community’s “Hungry Period.” Well, it’s time to do it again and together, we can do this! We have a jump on the season this time, but the urgency remains the same!

Click here to contribute.

In rural southern Africa, the Hungry Period (January-March) is when you are lucky to eat one meal a day. That one meal is Nshima, a thick paste cooked from Maize meal, with cooked down pumpkin leaves. It might not sound mouth-watering … but it fills them up … and they are grateful for it.

As subsistence farmers, this season is one that rural Africans have to endure every year. Their stored food is depleted as they wait for the rainy season to end and the March harvest to be ready. That means their children are coming to school hungry. Very hungry. It makes learning difficult. The school day has to be shortened during this period. The mango fruit season (the only breakfast option) has also just ended. They have absolutely no energy to learn.

But, again this year, as we did last year, we have an opportunity to help …

Women in the community are willing to make the students Nshima at Dwankhozi Community School. (Pictured, left) This is a community of people who care deeply about their school and want to help. So we have the built-in labor to make the food, students eager to learn and teachers always ready to teach … they just need us to help buy them some maize. When we’re able to provide this nutritious meal during the school day for the duration of this tough season, school attendance remains high and the students’ and teachers’ momentum for learning is sustained. It’s a matter of health and of hope.

$10 feeds 60 students for one day.

$100 feeds the entire school for one day.

They only need to be fed for 6 weeks (30 school days.)

That’s $3,000.

To keep 600 students learning.

Let’s do this. We did it last year in one week – and we know we can do it again!

Every penny we raise here will go towards the purchase of food for Dwankhozi Basic School.


Last Day at the School

As Moses had said, “the last day was overtime.” The plan was for us to be finished with our work by Friday and to use Saturday to begin to prepare for our departure. However, due to the excitement of the teachers and the adoption of the computer lessons, the computer training program was extended one more day. We also used this time to install reading rooms at one of the villages. Brad, Mark, and Bertha focused on training the teachers in Internet search, e-mail, and typing. They also taught one of the teachers, Maurice, advanced techniques such as PowerPoint, projector usage, and troubleshooting techniques. The teachers now will be able to develop lesson plans in MS Word and print them out for the class. They will also be able to perform Internet education research and communication via e-mail. Moreover, Maurice will be able to develop presentations using PowerPoint and show them to the students using the projector that we delivered. While there is still training that needs to take place and there will probably be some initial issues on adapting to this technolgoy, this computer lab represents a huge step forward for the school. I have never seen the teachers more excited. They know their newfound skills will serve them for the rest of their lives. A window to the world has been opened which will allow them to, as Moses put it, “Dream wider.”

While the team was busy with computer training, Moses and I visited a nearby Village (Mphanga) to  install our first reading room. The idea is to deploy solar lighting to one of the buildings in the village so that students will have a place to study in the evening. If this pilot program works well, we plan to deploy solar reading rooms in all of the villages that make up the Dwankhozi catchment area. You can see some pictures of the team and the children outside of the reading room as well as one of our students (Martin) using the lights to study. As you might imagine, the students are very excited about this and we are hopeful this will help improve student performance by giving them more time to study.

There was an air of sadness within our team as we prepared to depart from the school. However, this feeling was surpassed by the overwhelming sense of joy and excitement we all felt about the accomplishments of the week and the hope for the future. It was a tremendously busy week and much was accomplished. Even more importantly than the tangible accomplishments, was the renewed sense of friendship, partnership, and hope for the future. We look forward to the next time we see our friends. Although that may be some time, the newly installed computer lab will allow us to stay in touch more easily. The students, teachers, and parents of Dwankhozi are never far away from our thoughts and now they will no longer be too far away for us to connect.

See you all back in the US soon!  Thanks for keeping up with us.

Matt, Mark & Brad

(Mphanga Village Reading Room)


(Children Watching Video of Themselves on Smartphone)




A Video First for the Students

Today was yet another full day.  We woke up early to get a head start and didn’t get to bed until after midnight.  It’s exciting work but our time here is limited and there is so much to get done, every moment is precious.  We started the day with more computer training for the teachers focusing on email and other computer applications.  Brad, Mark & Bertha are great instructors and the teachers and students are quick learners.  They have picked up these skills naturally.  While the classes were going on, I spent some time with the kids.  Grade 4 students received letters from the students at Queen Anne Elementary School, so they spent time writing them back to become real pen pals – so cool!  (check out the video)

Once we got the projector and Internet working, we showed the students the three films that Aly Schoonover made during the last visit with Kate Ballbach & Kirk Piper.  This was the first time the kids have ever seen anything on a big screen, let alone a video with them or their friends in it.  Their eyes were glued and there were many audible ‘ooohs and ahhhs’.  It was emotional for me to see.  After the videos I had the opportunity to talk to the kids a bit about being sponsored – encouraging them to work hard at school and we would commit to supporting them to give them a hope for a future.  They seemed to be touched by the idea that they would be known and that people believed in them and their dreams.  (hear their reactions on this video)

We met with the Ministry of Education, the Chiptata Rotary and the Ministry of Health earlier in the day.  After 6 years of being involved with this community, we have built a trust with the government.  They have seen NGOs come and go – but they see that we have invested in Dwankhozi and are here to stay.   They are very excited about our public/private partnership and are willing to help in any way they can.  They want to work with us towards the common goal of providing these wonderful children an education and giving them hope for a brighter future.

This trip has been amazing on so many levels.  It’s so hard to communicate everything, just know that we have been blessed by this experience and we could not have accomplished this work without your partnership and support.  There is so much still to be done but each trip is a reminder of how much we have grown and how much potential there is for future progress.  We look forward to what’s next and to you joining us on this journey.  Stay tuned for a few more updates before our departure.

Stay blessed,

Matt, Mark & Brad

A Busy Day at the School

It was a busy day of classroom instruction for the computers, printer and projector.   We also upgraded our solar power to handle the power needs for the computer lab and delivered solar units to near by communities.  For this blog, I’m going to use photos and some rough cut videos to give you a clear picture of what we’ve been up to. Enjoy!


Brad giving a class to the teachers about the use of the computers, the printers and the new projector.

Delivering the early reader books donated from QAE School and the school supplies to the Headmaster.

Students writing letters to QAE school in Seattle.

Mark, Brad, and Matt reading about the Bears from the Internet on a projector at the school. A nice present for Mark on his birthday.

Delivering Solar lights and supplies to Lukusuzi School nearby – we also were able to deliver more lights to a second school in the area.

A student busy at work.

Celebration: Matt MacLean

We finally arrived in Chipata after a wonderful stay in Malawi with our new partners and friends.  We were anxious to get to the school to see everyone, celebrate together and share our news and progress with one another.

Village members performing traditional dance.

Our Zambian welcome was amazing – great food, warm greetings, lots of traditional dancing.  Each visit we are humbled by how warmly we are welcomed – we know one another; we are family now.

There were many government officials, chiefs’ representatives and headmen attending the celebration this visit.  Each one of us was given the opportunity to speak a bit about our experience thus far and our gratitude for being invited in this partnership.  We discussed many topics, both current initiatives and future endeavors.

The latest teachers’ housing is complete (a shared flat model to house 2 families) and we were able to present the keys to the Ministry of Education to allow them to find teachers to fill these homes.  The government is thrilled with the progress and is willing to partner with us to find teachers as we continue to build.  The Ministry of Education was also very interested in the Kindle Project – we were able to give them one of the pre-loaded Kindles from the school as a proto-type as they are interested in developing a digital library in surrounding areas.  One of their hopes is to digitize text books – so much to discover and develop!

Two of DH’s teachers – Ida & Moses Masala with big sister Bertha.

We also met with representatives of two chiefs in the surrounding area – this was a first to have both of them at this celebration.  We explained our vision of an agricultural project and the need for more land close to the school.  Both representatives were supportive of the idea and willing to portion some land!

It was a whirlwind of a day – there is so much to share it’s difficult to express in one blog post.  We have an extremely busy schedule for the duration of stay – let’s hope we are able to accomplish it all before we have to leave.

Tomorrow’s plans are for computer, kindle, printer and projector training by Brad, Mark & Bertha.  Moses & I will be installing a pilot reading room, as well as donation solar lights to surrounding villages.

A computer lab in the middle of rural Zambia!



Thank you all for the interest in this journey – it’s been an awesome ride thus far, with so much more to come!


Matt, Mark & Brad

Learning from Namitembo

We arrived safely in Malawi on Friday, and were greeted by our friends from Dwankhozi.  After a wonderful meal, we set off for the six-hour drive to Namitembo, in rural Malawi. Leaving close to sunset made for quite an interesting journey – it’s not easy to find a rural school down a dirt road, in pitch darkness, without ‘google’ maps.

Traveling to Namitembo were Brad, Mark & myself, along with our Project Manager, Moses Masala, and the PTA Chairman from Dwankhozi Community School (DCS), Godfrey, who is a local farmer from Dwankhozi. Our purpose was to visit a Parish school that we had heard about from some friends in the states, establish connections, and learn how they have developed a trade school and agriculture program.

Our host Father Philip greeted us in the morning with breakfast and an insightful tour of their facilities – specifically their agriculture project and trade school. We were so impressed with their accomplishments that we hope to emulate both of these initiatives at DCS in the near future.

One of the most interesting things we learned about their agriculture program is inter-cropping. It’s a technique where you intersperse nitrogen-producing crops such as chickpeas and groundnuts, with staple crops such as maize along with a nitrogen-producing shrub call gliricidia. Yields have increased three-fold and they have enough food for the hungry season. With Godfrey’s help along with other local farmers, we hope to bring this technique to DCS.  We believe this can provide enough food during the hungry season to feed the kids, which was an issue we discovered during our last visit.

The trade school focuses on teaching brick building and carpentry.    Because so few students at DCS are able to go to high school or college, providing them with a trade will enable them to earn a living.  Building a trade school is now on our list of future projects.

Thanks for your continued support throughout our journey.  This is only the beginning – we have so much more to look forward to.




Our Journey Begins: Mark Russo

I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Wait for the Lord and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”                                          –Psalm 27:13-14

We are all very excited to begin our trip to Africa. But there is a lot of waiting! It’s an eight-day adventure but it takes four full days to get there and back.  As we prepare to leave we can sense the spirit going before us, paving our journey and providing our way.

Please pray:

  • for safe travel, protection from sickness and lots of rest.
  • that we can let go of all of the logistics, all of the arrangements and all of our anxieties and instead open our eyes and ears to see what God has for us on our journey.
  • for our kids and wives back home. While we are having fun seeing the Lord’s hand at work on the other side of the world, they have made it possible for us to go.
  • for the kids and families of Dwankhozi.

Last night we prayed for rain for the farmers of the Midwest USA and it rained today!  I have heard that the farmers we will visit in Malawi and Zambia are also struggling with drought. We pray for rain, that the Lord might stretch out his hand and provide nourishing rain to the soil and the people who depend upon Him.

Pray for the children at the school who have been diligently studying amidst the heat, the hunger and malaria. We pray that our visit might renew their spirit and their determination!  Pray also for the teachers and community leaders who have been laboring to keep the school alive. May God continue to sustain them.

We hope to keep communicating throughout our trip. For updates on our travels, please sign up for the Dwankhozi Hope blog by completing the Subscribe to Blog section located on our Programs page.

Please also check out these short videos to learn more about Dwankhozi
Hope School:  Meet Martin, Give a KindleSponsor a Student.


Mark Russo, Brad MacLean & Matt MacLean

Little People With Big Hearts Taking Action

Martin in class


We’ve been especially inspired recently by our latest donor story about two young boys, strangers to one another, but who nevertheless have intersected with one another’s hearts and hopes across oceans and vast continents. Jack is a first grader at Queen Anne Elementary in Seattle, WA and many of you have “met” Dwankhozi Community School student, Martin (pictured right), through the video (click to view) we recently shared with all of you on our website.  Jack’s mom, Katie, a teacher at Queen Anne Elementary, brought Jack to our video release event this past year. We recently sat down with the two of them for a little visit and to ask Jack to tell us more about his story.

Jack and Katie had talked about Dwankhozi Hope long before they attended the video release event, but he said it hadn’t really captured his interest – until he saw Martin’s story that evening. He couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it, watching the video many more times after the event.  It wasn’t long before an idea began to take shape. Jack’s seventh birthday was coming up. Instead of getting presents from his friends, he could ask them to bring donations for Martin and his friends at DCS. “It was a hard decision,” he said, nodding his head seriously, “but, then…,” he shrugged and nodded again, “I just decided.” And that was that. Katie shared Jack’s plans with us and we went straight to work, braiding Zambian cloth bracelets for party favors. It was a sort of meditation of gratitude and humility as we made those bracelets, recalling what it was like to turn seven and imagining the gravity of the decision to forego the excitement and significance of receiving birthday gifts at that age.

Invitations for the party went out, giving the choice for his friends to bring a gift or to choose to bring a donation. Martin’s video was played for his classmates. A large glass jar was decorated with photos of Martin and the school, balloons were attached to the jar and rocks from the family’s garden kept the empty jar from floating away as they waited for the guests to arrive at the park for Jack’s celebration day. Every single friend chose to bring a donation for Martin and they raised over $400.00 that day. Coming home from the party, Jack was clasping the jar in the back seat, “I feel so good,” he told his parents, “Grown up.” Jack’s teachers and principal recognized his philanthropic undertaking during the school’s morning assembly a few weeks ago where Jack presented Matt MacLean of Dwankhozi Hope with his donation jar (pictured below).

Thank you, Jack!

Matt and Jack had a chance to discuss where Jack wanted the donation to be put to use, and, as an avid soccer player and fan he was excited to hear that this was a passion he shared with the kids of DCS. His donation will be used to maintain the school’s soccer supplies and uniforms.

There is something incredibly moving and inspiring about a child who has experienced that he is absolutely able to make a significant difference for others in the world. Jack and his mom are already thinking about how he and his friends at Queen Anne Elementary can begin to create even more meaningful relationships and interactions with Martin and all the kids of DCS – perhaps as pen-pals or via some kind of learning exchange between schools. And he has some ideas about that glass donation jar, too! He’s suggested that it could be made available to any other kids who might want to find a way to make a difference too – a sort of “Follow the Jar” kids-to-kids program. To Jack and to all his friends who joined him in the fundraiser, we want to express our deep gratitude! You are an example and an inspiration to all of us. We are so proud to count each of you as partners in this amazing, international community-building journey we’re taking together!