BLANTYRE, MALAWI —
In Malawi, an American organization, VoiceFlame, is leading an effort to make the voices of women heard -- through writing their own stories. The group seeks to empower girls and women by supporting education, writing and other forms of creative expression.
Chief Executive Officer for the organization, Mary Tuchscherer, said she got the idea during her first visit to the country six years ago.
“I travelled to Malawi for the first time in 2007," she said, "and one of the first things I learned is that it’s not common for women to write here, and there were very few, if any, women published authors. I realized that since I teach writing, I could bring something back to the women if they were interested in telling their stories as a way of empowering them and helping them understand that their [lives] matter and that other people [around] the world want to hear about their stories.”
She began asking women if they would be interested in telling their stories or learning to write them.
“And they said ‘yes.' So before I left Malawi I made a commitment to come back in 18 months, and I would bring eight women from North America with me, and we would all write together,” said Tuchscherer.
She said on her second trip, over 100 women participated in the writing workshop where they exchanged stories and learned to shared experiences as women, mothers and grandmothers. The were encouraged to write on any issue they deemed comfortable to share with friends. Many of them discussed household issues and motherhood.
Sue McCollum, the Chief Operating Officer for VoiceFlame, said the resulting material is now available to readers everywhere.
“We have published one book ‘Nda Ku Ona’ [‘I See You With My Heart’] an anthology of women’s stories," she explained. "We are [also] beginning something new on our website called ‘She Writes, She Speaks,’ and we are going to invite Malawian women to send us stories that they have written and we will [put them] on our website. We want to educate through this. Our vision is to see women in Malawi writing and empowering each other and offering strength to each other."
McCollum says the organization has so far trained 11 Malawian women from various professional backgrounds as local trainers in an effort to keep the project running smoothly.
They also help write the accounts of women who are not literate.
Cheu Mita, a journalist with the country’s daily The Nation, is one of the trainers. She said the effort is helping women open up and even turn into good news sources.
“Usually when we go out even as journalists we are not able to get the stories of the women," she said. "In our societies and culture, we make women sit in the back so we go to the men, and they always give us stories. It’s high time that we start looking at women and try to make them give us more information”.
She said if the initiative spreads, it will help to bring women together, allow them to socialize and to tell stories.
Mphatso Kaipa is one of the young women who attended the writing sessions.
“It was exciting," she said, "to have an opportunity to express openly what is in the heart and letting them out for others to hear. I wasn’t thinking myself of being a writer, but now I have confidence that I can write and am writing “
Founded in 2004 by in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States, VoiceFlame has so far reached over 1,000 women and girls in Malawi. By 2016, it plans to reach out specifically to 4,000 women writers and another 40, 000 women who will potentially read the articles, and learn from them.