Category: Giving Back

Building a School in Malawi, Africa

Giving Back, Gratitude  //  

So many emotions! I thought 1 year would have given us enough time to fully process and comprehend our experience in Malawi, Africa helping to build a school with BuildOn. However, after taking some time to reflect and look through these photos again, it is clear our time in this small community in rural Africa has had a life changing impact that we will always still be processing! That is the beauty of life changing experiences right?

As I mentioned yesterday, our friend Laura asked us to join her and a group of her family and friends to help build a school in Malawi! For over a year, we had been fundraising and preparing for this adventure. However, nothing truly can prepare you for an experience like this.

We met up with the rest of the group at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa and then Lilongwe, Malawi. We were greeted by the local BuildOn staff and as soon as I tried to remember how to properly greet them in Chichewa (their local language), I knew I was in trouble! I am not good at learning other languages! It was a rough start! ;) We made our way to Kasungu, a small city on the way Jonasi, our village where we would be buildin. We stayed there for a night to “ease” our way into “life in the village.” Ohh goodness. This was the beginning of “out of our comfort zone.”

On our way to the village the next day, we made a stop at a school that was recently built by BuildOn. Wow. What an incredible glimpse into the lives of the students and the teachers in rural Malawi. We sat in on 3 different classes, one of which was an adult education class! As I look back on these photos, I am once again blown away by a few things:
1. Most of the children do not have shoes.
2. The children either sit on the floor or share a desk with at least 3 other kids!
3. The adults were learning how to write their names. Even though we witnessed this first hand, I still have a hard time comprehending this!

When we arrived to our village, we were greeted in a way we will never forget! The joy I felt in this exact moment is a joy I hope to relive every single day of my life! In fact, I hope we can bring this joy to people around us every single day! Wow! What a gift that has impacted us in big ways!

While we were in the local village, we stayed with a host family. These beautiful families opened up their homes. Our host family did not speak any English and we did not speak any Chichewa! What a crazy adventure.

The homes were about 300 square feet at the largest. Our home had a “couch” inside with dirt floors. However, most of the homes did not have any furniture. As guests, our host family asked us to sit on the couch while they sat on the floor while eating dinner.

The “bathroom” was outside. There was a bathing hut and a latrine. The latrine is a hole in the ground where you do your business. (We brought our own toilet paper.) The bathing area was a bucket of water (our family was so kind, they even warmed our water for us!). It was usually dark when it was time to bathe, so that often meant we were dodging scary looking bugs and unknown creatures (like frogs) that thought it would be fun to jump around and scare us while we try to get clean!

The water is another thing that is just so hard to comprehend! I saw people drink water out of these dirty buckets that were full of water from the river.The same water that is found here:

Our village had two water pumps close to town. (About a 10 minute walk). (And yes, these kiddos are about 5-10 years old and carry buckets on their heads heavier then I could lift myself. We would pump water, then filter the water using a special filter, and then add bleach to make sure we took care of all of the bacteria! As you can imagine, the water did not taste good. In fact, it tasted even worse once it warmed up with the sun! ☹ But we were drinking filtered water from the pump. Our families often drank unfiltered water from the river. ☹

In Malawi, the main food that they eat is called Nshima [seema]. Nshima is basically a blob of corn flour. It doesn’t have much taste, but the texture is… well, let’s just say it has a texture. ☹ The best way I can describe the consistency is raw biscuit dough. I did not like Nshima. In fact, by the end of our Trek, I was not sure I would have been able to eat any more of it! Our host family eats Nshima for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Well, they actually don’t really eat breakfast and lunch. A typical dinner consists of Nshima and cooked pumpkin leaves. Rice is a special treat for them that they rarely eat, and they typically only eat meat on special holidays or if they are celebrating something special!

Our family asked us what we typically ate… and when we said pizza, they looked at us like we are crazy! This is so hard to comprehend when we have so many options available to us all of the time, but they literally only eat Nshima and fruits and vegetables that they grow. Every time I thought I was going to gag over the Nshima, I had a gut check. We are beyond blessed not only to have enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, but we have so many options we could eat something different every single day of the year! THAT is truly the crazy thing!

Cooking Nshima is an art! These women are truly remarkable.

Helping to build the school in our village was one of the most AMAZING things we have ever been a part of. Seeing an entire community (both men and women) come together to do hard physical labor for long hours each day was absolutely incredible. The strength in the men and women was awe-inspiring. I will never forget struggling to try to carry 3 bricks on my head while the other women carried at least 4 or 5 bricks, balancing them on their head and in their hands, while carrying a baby on their back. They define strength to me.

Working on the school and doing physical labor was life giving! It fired me up to be able to put my hands to work. Having so many hands work together on a common project was incredible. At one point, Laura turned to me and said, “Ahh. I missed service Liz.” Laura and I’s friendship grew while fundraising and building homes together for Habitat for Humanity in college. Laura knows my passion for working hard for others and apparently that side of me came out again in Africa, and I am so grateful! I missed “service Liz” too!

It is so eye-opening to me that it has only been 12 months since our time in Africa, but we so quickly fall back into our crazy little sheltered world that we live in and so “easily” forget the reality of these families lives! :(

1. They do not have access to clean drinking water.
2. They do not own shoes.
3. They do not have electricity.
4. After 2nd grade, they might have to walk miles to school because they do not have a school building for the older grades. Or, they might not have access to school at all.
5. They eat the same “corn-based starch” food every day of their lives. (Eating rice and meat is a huge treat to them!)
6. They have about 1 outfit per person and zero “things.”
7. They do not have running water and they do not have toilet paper.
8. They make their own tools. They make their own bricks. They make their own concrete. (No machines. No trucks. No bulldozers or backhoes.)

This is still mind blowing to me. After working on the school for 4 days, I still somehow expected the concrete truck to come rolling up and pour the concrete! That never happened. This is their reality.

For all of these things they “do not have,” they certainly do have a ton of JOY. Smiles and laughter are more present than anywhere else we have ever been. They know how to have fun with rocks, dirt, and a handmade ball made out of trash they found on the ground. They dance and sing at every opportunity they have. Community living is so visible. They see the people they want to see regularly because they don’t have a daily planner that is filled to the max with business. They just show up in people’s lives. They do laundry together, garden together, and fill their water buckets together. For all of the things we would say they do not have, they would have just as many life lessons and more to fill our hearts with joy!

I am so grateful we are reflecting on this with Thanksgiving just a few days away. We are so thankful for the opportunity to travel to Malawi and have the Jonasi Community welcome us with such open arms. It is amazing how often we go into something hoping to touch the lives of others, when in fact it is our lives that are touched! We have forever been blessed by the Jonasi Community in Malawi and we can only pray that their new school forever blesses them!

This Thanksgiving, as we eat our big meals complete with turkey and about 20 sides to choose from, we hope you will join us in being extra grateful for those things we often take for granted… you know, those 20 sides to choose from, clean drinking water, education, shoes, running water, and a toilet to flush. We are certainly grateful!

More Than October

More Than October | A Special Project

Giving Back, Gratitude  //  

I honestly have no idea even where to begin this post! My emotions are all over the map right now, but most importantly, my heart is filled with Joy! Over the past few months, Ryan and I have been working on a project that we have had to keep silent. Over the last few weeks, we started many mornings off with a conference call with two of our favorite people in the world, we completed a MAGICAL photo shoot that filled an empty old factory with whimsical AMAZINGness, Ryan fully coded his first WordPress website, and we witnessed one of the most AMAZING women in our lives take an incredibly brave step to touch the lives of others! Wow.

Abadal More Than October PhotoOn September 10, 2012, our mentor, friend, board of life director, pretty much second mom, inspirer (the list goes on and on), Dean Badal (or Amy Badal… but she will always be Dean Badal to us!) fought and won her battle with Breast Cancer. I remember receiving the call from our friend Jenna telling us that Dean Badal had breast cancer and she was having surgery that day to remove it. That call was one of those calls that you never expect to receive and never could imagine what to say or even do. I remember feeling heart broken and sick to my stomach, yet prayerful knowing that God works in mysterious ways.

Dean Badal has touched our lives in more ways than we could ever describe. In fact, every single student and alum that has been surrounded by her at Bucknell would probably say the same thing. Ok, scratch that… every single person who has been surrounded by her at one time or another would absolutely say she has touched his/her life in a special way!

When we heard the news that Dean Badal was fighting cancer, I knew in my heart that there was a reason. God had a plan and He was going to see her through this journey. Just a few weeks after her surgery, Dean Badal shared that she had already been thinking about what she could do to use this incredibly challenging time to make a difference for someone else. She always has incredible and crazy fun ideas! ;) (Maybe that is where we get our love for crazy ideas from!?! ;) In fact, I have no doubt that is where we get it from! ;)) Over the past year, Dean Badal has shared her idea of More Than October with us many times. However, in the midst of her incredibly busy schedule in her role as a Dean that she puts her whole heart and soul into, she had little time to focus on it. Jenna called us one day and said… ok, we are just going to do this. We are going to get the ball rolling and make this happen!

Weeks later… and an incredibly heart warming journey later, we could not be more excited to share with you, More Than October. The site is designed to share Dean Badal’s story, where early detection saved her life, and inspire women to take action for their own health. She has started a movement to get at least 1,000 women to sign the pledge to do a self-check or schedule a mammogram. This can save your life! Seriously, the statistics are real. 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over her lifetime. Please don’t hide from it. Take action for your health… your friends and family will appreciate it more than you know! Please go take action, sign the pledge, and send the message to all of the AMAZING women in your life to do the same.

More Than October

We are beyond proud of Dean Badal (who might be one of the most private people we know) for sharing her story in hopes that it can inspire people to take action. It is not easy to put yourself out there, and she did. This life is so much bigger than ourselves, and Dean Badal has given us another example of just that! I am moved to tears knowing how blessed we are to have Dean Badal in our lives and to have the opportunity to help her make this project happen! Dean Badal… thank you for being YOU, for believing in us, for challenging us, for teaching us life lessons every single day, for using your “gifts” to impact the world around us, for clicking publish on your site! ;), and for always being an inspiring example of how to live this AMAZING life! We LOVE you Dean Badal!


Donate a Toy to Toys for Tots: Advent Calendar Day 21

Giving Back, Gratitude  //  

Happy Holidays! Only four days left until Christmas! If you haven’t checked out our AMAZING Life Holiday Advent Calendar yet be sure to do so today!

Some of my most vivid memories from childhood was going to bed on Christmas Eve and not being able to sleep all night.  Fortunately Santa never checked to make sure I wasn’t awake.  Although I wouldn’t have minded as long as he shared some of his milk and cookies with me! :)

At about 5am on Christmas morning, I would wake up and sneak over to my brother’s room.  There we would eagerly wait until 6am when we could finally wake up our parents to go open the gifts that were wrapped nicely under the tree.  There would be presents from Santa, Rudolph, the elves, Mrs. Claus, you name it … Apparently everyone at the North Pole liked giving us gifts! We would start with the stockings stuffed to the top with Candy and toys.  Of course my mom would always be sure to sneak in a new toothbrush so we wouldn’t rot our teeth with all the Peanut Butter Smidgens Santa left us.

Although Santa would give some cool presents, the best were always the ones from our parents and family.  It’s heartbreaking to think that some children may not have the same experience of joy and happiness on Christmas Morning that stands out so vividly to me over 20 years later.

Fortunately there are many AMAZING organizations that collect toys and gifts for families in need. One of our favorites is Toys for Tots. On Day 21 of Advent we encourage you to donate to Toys for Tots. 

There is still time to donate a toy to Toys for Tots.  Go to, select donate a toy, select your state, and then your local area.  You will then be given a list of locations that are collecting toys.  Since Christmas is quickly approaching (where did December go?), many places have stopped collecting gifts, but there are still a few that will collect donations up until Christmas Day.  If you can’t find a location that is still collecting, you can still make a monetary donation to Toys for Tots that will help purchase gifts for those in need.  Help bring a smile and a lasting memory to a child’s face this year by donating to Toys for Tots!

Thanks to the AMAZING staff at the North Hammonds Ferry Rd Fed Ex!  Everyone was so excited and grateful when we showed up to drop off our toys! 

Collect Change to donate to a Salvation Army kettle – Advent Day 7

Giving Back, Gratitude  //  

How many times during the holiday season have we been in a rush to get in and out of a store?  In a rush to buy that one last gift so we can check the last person off our list. How many times have we just brushed past the volunteer standing by the red kettle ringing a bell without hesitation?  Have we ever even taken a moment to ask why they are ringing their bells?

From the Salvation Army:

“Donations provide Christmas dinners, clothing, and toys for families in need. Financial assistance also helps with basic necessities, along with seasonal aid. Families of prisoners often are included.

Volunteers distribute gifts to shut-ins in hospitals and nursing homes, and shelters are open for sit-down dinners. The Salvation Army endeavors to bring spiritual light and love to those it serves at Christmas so that the real meaning of the season is not forgotten.”

Today for Day 7 of our AMAZING Life Holiday Advent Calendar we will be collecting change from our couch to donate to a Salvation Army Kettle.  Everyone probably has $2 or $3 in loose change lying around, between the cushions, on a dresser, or in a loose change jar! (At least we are hoping we are not the only ones with change all over our house!)

Today we will be collecting all of the loose change we can possibly find and then we are going to head out, not to buy one more holiday gift, but to find the nearest bell ringer with a red kettle to donate our change.

If you really are super organized and you can’t find any loose change, but still want to donate, we have created an online Red Kettle Campaign.  You can view and donate to our campaign here or better yet, start your own. Our goal is to reach $250 before Christmas! Please help us!!

The next time you head out to the store… before you leave, collect your loose change and be sure to deposit it into a red kettle! Once you actually have gone through all of your loose change, be sure to go out of your way and thank the volunteer who is ringing that bell! It’s all about making people smile this holiday season… and you can do it to!


Write a letter to Santa – Advent Calendar Day 6

Giving Back, Gratitude  //  

What is your Christmas Wish this year?! What a fun question to think about, right? For some it may be a toy, a computer, or a new pair of shoes… and for others it may be as “simple” as a new home like one of Susan’s wishes in Miracle on 34th Street. I tend to think that Santa can handle anything AND it never hurts to ask! So, for Day 6 of the Amazing Holiday Advent Calendar, we are encouraging you to write a letter to Santa!

As we prepared for our visit with Santa, we discussed what we would say when he asked us that question, “What is your Christmas Wish this year?!” A few “simple” ideas came to mind… nothing that seemed too much to ask from such a magical person! ;) We simplified our list to this:

      • An AMAZING life for EVERYONE that they live out everyday!
      • Health and Happiness
      • World Peace.

I mean, if Santa can bring Susan a Dad, a new home, AND a baby brother… I think he can handle the above too! ;) As we were walking through Macy’s during our visit with Santa, we came across a letter writing station where we could write a letter to Santa and they would make sure that he receives it! AWESOME! So, I had myself a little seat at the desk and wrote my letter! I was sure to offer any help that we could just in case we really were asking for too much! ;)

The very best thing about writing our letter to Santa and mailing it at Macy’s is that they will donate $1.00 for every letter that they receive to the Make A Wish Foundation!!! SO so so great!!! The next time you are at the mall (or what the heck- make a special trip!!!) go to Macy’s and mail your very own letter to Santa… or two or three! You will be making a difference in an AMAZING child’s live!

Don’t hold back on those wishes… we are believers and even if they don’t come true this year, we know the elves will be working hard to make them come true in the very near future!