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University of Missouri

Mizzou for Malawi

How Caroline O’Reilly found Malawi on a map and in her heart.

Mizzou for Malawi is a “students for students” organization that sponsors a school and orphanage in Salima, Malawi.

Mizzou for Malawi is a “students for students” organization that sponsors a school and orphanage in Salima, Malawi.

Until last year, Caroline O’Reilly couldn’t point to Malawi on a map. But today, the junior journalism major from Naperville, Illinois, is somewhat of an expert on the southeast African country. O’Reilly is a tri-director for Mizzou for Malawi, a student-run organization that sponsors a school and orphanage there.

Started by three University of Missouri students in 2008, Mizzou for Malawi partners with The Global Orphan Project, an orphan care and prevention organization led by CEO Joe Knitting, JD ’96, of Kansas City, Missouri. Together they helped build and fund a primary school for the more than 100 orphans and nearly 300 other students living in and around the Pothawira Village in Salima, Malawi.

Caroline O’Reilly uses what she learns in class at the Missouri School of Journalism to raise awareness of Mizzou for Malawi.

Caroline O’Reilly uses what she learns in class at the Missouri School of Journalism to raise awareness of Mizzou for Malawi.

O’Reilly serves as Mizzou for Malawi’s director of public relations and merchandise, which directly relates to her major.

“Being a strat comm major, you know that it’s doing social media work, but it’s really what is your message and how do you reach the audience you want to reach,” says O’Reilly, who runs the organization’s social media accounts and website and designs the group’s T-shirts. “Most of us don’t have the opportunity to ever go to Malawi, so how do you make that meaningful for people here and help them to understand what you’re doing and why they should donate?”

What O’Reilly has found to work is sharing facts and figures. She tells her peers that only 58 percent of kids in Malawi finish fifth grade, and the country’s literacy rate is 74 percent. The average life expectancy in Malawi is 52 years.

“My mom is 51 years old,” says an exasperated O’Reilly. “Education is so much more than learning to read. It can increase your overall health, your life expectancy.”

The average cost of private school in Malawi is $500 a year, but most people make less than $1 a day. Now in its seventh year, Mizzou for Malawi has raised more than $40,000 for the primary school, which educates grades K–8 and employs eight teachers. The money goes toward tuition for 112 students, teachers’ salaries, school supplies, desks and school uniforms — yes, they’re black and gold.

This year, the organization’s 37 members want to raise $27,000 toward the construction of a new primary school and conversion of the current building into a secondary school. O’Reilly is helping Mizzou for Malawi support the Click the Brick campaign (see sidebar) — for every $10 donated, Mizzou for Malawi can help purchase bricks to build the new facilities that could serve 600 students.

Before O’Reilly got involved with Mizzou for Malawi, she dreamed of a career in advertising, maybe leading a campaign for a celebrity or a high-end brand. But now, she’s considering nonprofit work.

“Knowledge is power, and empowering children to change their lives empowers me,” she says.

Malawi Madness

March Madness has taken on a new meaning for Chuck Wolfe, BS Ed ’83, this year. Instead of joining a pool to bet on which college basketball team will win the NCAA Championship, he’s donating his energy and resources to Malawi Madness, a national fundraiser that’s part of the Click the Brick campaign to benefit the Pothawira Academy in Malawi.

Wolfe became a volunteer with The Global Orphan Project in 2007 to help coordinate the Pothawira project. His involvement inspired his daughter Libby Wolfe Moss, BS ’10, and two friends to start Mizzou for Malawi in 2008. This year, he developed the idea for Malawi Madness to encourage college alumni to get involved in the building of the new school facility and to provide college scholarships for foster youth.

Alumni make a donation on behalf of their university, and every school that raises more than $1,000 will receive a gift from a private donor in an amount equal to 10 percent of its total donations to its alumni association to be earmarked for student scholarships.

“We always want to help ‘over there,’ but we don’t want to forget about the needs ‘back here,’ ” Wolfe says. “[Malawi Madness] is supporting educational opportunities for underprivileged children both in Africa and America. Plus, there is the potential for alumni to create scholarship for their alma maters at the same time. That’s a powerful combination for exponential social impact.”

Wolfe hopes to raise more than $25,000 through Malawi Madness, which kicks off March 14 at malawimadness.net.