Long called “the warm heart of Africa”, Malawi is renowned for the kindness of its people, who are uniquely gracious and welcoming to visitors. Hefren-Tillotson CEO Kim Fleming first experienced the warm hearts of Malawians when she traveled there in 2003 as part of a mission trip to bring relief during a devastating famine.
“That trip was life-changing. I loved the time I spent with the people of Malawi, who are so joyful that they leave you feeling very enriched and encouraged. Since then, I’ve felt a strong connection to their country,” she says. “I traveled to South Africa in 2009 to help with the building of a preschool, but I never stopped thinking about Malawi.”
As fate would have it, in early 2017, Kim received an invitation from a friend to return to Malawi to build homes through Habitat for Humanity. Although she wasn’t able to take that trip, she quickly hopped on the Habitat website, her heart still set on Malawi. And there it was: an open slot for a different week in July. She jumped at the chance.
“I traveled there alone,” Kim explains, “and for these kinds of trips, that’s how I prefer to do it. I like the connections I make and the freedom I have to just be me and be anonymous. Our group of 23 builders ranged from 17 to 72 in age, and we came from many different countries. I had never done Habitat for Humanity before, and I was thrilled to be going back to Malawi.”
Kim flew into the city of Blantyre, where she and her fellow volunteers were met and driven to the small village of Chimpolo. Their mission was to build three brick homes for people who were caring for orphans. In Malawi, HIV and malaria leave many children without parents,” says Kim. “It felt good to help such vulnerable children.” In Kim’s village, they built brick and mortar houses with windows and a door, a rare luxury. “These were very basic houses, with just two little rooms and one larger room–not much bigger than my office. But this village had a limited food supply and no running water, electricity or toilets. These houses meant a lot.”
Kim spent eight days in Malawi, working five days with her group, hiking on Mount Mulanje and closely bonding with her Habitat team and the people in her village. “The local children were so much fun and loved to play. When we took their pictures, they got such a kick out of seeing themselves on a cell phone,” she laughs. “The villagers helped us find the best bricks and made us feel so welcome. Id never worked with Habitat for Humanity before but like my trip in 2003, this experience was life-changing.”
So life-changing, that after just a few months, Kim is already planning her next service trip. And this time, she wont be going alone. “I know Ill return to Malawi someday, but for now, I’m focused on putting together a trip a little closer to home for Hefren-Tillotson employees, clients, friends and kids,” she says with excitement. This was my outside the box experience for the year. Now, I want to share that feeling and that camaraderie with others in a way that can make a real difference.”
Stay tuned for news of an upcoming Hefren-Tillotson service trip inspired by Kim’s time in Malawi. “The impact we can make on other peoples lives is eye-opening. Even more eye-opening is the impact those people can make on our lives,” she says, speaking from experience and gratitude.
And of course, from the heart.