How Project Kindy Started

From left to right: Sr Melissa Dwyer, Donna Power, Sr Giovanna Tosi and Sr Immakulata Rugumila meeting in Brisbane, December 2012.

Hi, I’m Donna Power and I’m the founder of Project Kindy. It is a delight to share our story with you!

How did Project Kindy start?

One of my dearest friends, Sr Melissa Dwyer, a Canossian nun, spent 8 years in Malawi serving in a number of roles in education. In 2011, Mel was home on a break and visited me. Over a cuppa, she told me many of her adventures and mentioned that the kindergarten next to the convent may have to close as the parents couldn’t afford the $4/month fee.

There were 40 children attending at that time. Keen for a new adventure, it seemed that supporting 40 children at $4/month was quite straight forward.

The friends and family I emailed in 2011 quickly responded to the call for help and we sent our first donation that December.

The convent kindergarten enrolments quickly grew to 120. In January 2013 the Sisters were able to reopen 8 more village-run kindies that had been closed for some time due to the lack of funds.

In April 2018, two other villages saw the self-run model and requested kindergartens for their own communities. So we have supported 11 kindergartens since then with about 850 children in attendance.

From the very beginning, I was determined to ensure 100% of donations reach the grassroots where it is most needed. I set up a second account for our ‘Angel Givers’ to provide funds for expenses.

We value transparency and delight in showing our donors and supporters exactly where the funds go through photos, videos and stories as well as detailed budgets, receipts and reports from Malawi.

In August 2020 we were approved by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Tax Office to be an Overseas Aid Public Fund and a Deductible Gift Recipient. Now your donations are tax deductible! This has been a big milestone for us and has called us out to venture deeper into the work of empowering underserved communities through kindergartens.

why kindergarten? invest in project kindy to see significant return on the lives of children, communities and the whole country.
Donna Power reading a donated big book to the children of Bakhita Kindergarten, Nsanama, in 2017 on her visit with Julie Soh

Have we ever visited the kindergartens? What did you learn from being there in person?

In May 2017, 6 years after we began fundraising, another original Project Kindy leader, Julie Soh, and I were able to visit the villages in rural Malawi for the first time and meet the children, teachers, mums and village leaders.  A few things struck me as I witnessed firsthand what had grown from our small gestures.

I was not surprised to see the energy and contentment of the children and the joy and faith of the mums. It was so beautiful to see the children eating their meals calmly and contently, without a care in the world. Seeing healthy, happy kids felt good to witness – it’s how it should be. Time slowed down and the gravity of how much the Australian donations mean to the lives of these people affected me deeply.

What did surprise me was the level of involvement and passion of the local adults.  The locals run the kindergartens – it is a way to empower them to be the agents of change. When the village representatives request a kindergarten, the Sister gives them a list of jobs to do.   The village chief decides the location of the hut, the volunteers build it, the wider community (several villages surround and are involved in each kindy) create a Parents and Citizens Committee who are to meet regularly and appoint the volunteers.  The volunteers include the teachers, cooks, and groundsman and a person who travels to the convent each Monday to collect the week’s ingredients for the children’s lunches.

Volunteer teachers leading the children in song at St Theresa’s Kindergarten in Tadala

Moreover, I hadn’t realised the impact our friendship was having on the leaders of the villages.  One village chief, in a particularly remote location with bad farming conditions, said to us, “We told our neighbours here that you were coming to visit, but they didn’t believe us.  No one visits us.  We are the forgotten ones, the neglected.  You have not forgotten us. And our children are not hungry because of the gifts you give. Thank you.” The pain in his voice would melt the hardest of hearts as would his gratitude.  Another example is the passionate speeches we saw leading teachers in the villages give to the mums and village leaders. They proclaimed why and how the kindergarten is a point of pride and hope for their community.  Their determination and courage were palpable.

Malawi is a very different context to Australia. I finally understood that our subsistence-living communities have only one rainy season, mainly from December to March in Nsanama.  If it rains too much or too little, the people suffer.  Harvest time is around May to July, which means that is the only time they can access new food.  For us, that’s like the shops being open only from May to July.  Accordingly, we now send our major donation at the beginning of the harvest. This means the Sisters can purchase 4hundreds of 50kg bags of rice and corn to store for the school year.

From left to right: Julie Soh, Donna Power, Sr Josephine Allieri and teachers and children of Nazareth kindergarten in Katundu

Finally, the mothers showed us how much they appreciate their kindergartens. A dancing, singing, clapping, hollering choir of strong mums and grandmothers welcomed us at each kindy.  It was humbling to hear that the mothers walk their children for up to 3 hours to get to and from the kindies.  They stay for the duration and peer in through the doors and gaps of the stick or mud huts to listen to the stories being read and cheer loudly when the children recite the alphabet or count to 20 or identify the colours of objects.  We are hoping in time to be able to empower the mothers through simultaneous programs of education for them, too.

From left to right, Kiara Palmer, Donna Power and Kate Prior from the Project Kindy committe, 2019, at the Catholic Leader Awards when Donna was awarded Volunteer of the Year for Project Kindy.

Back in Brisbane, our journey as a small organisation has been rewarding, challenging and full of new learnings. We have had wonderful people join as donors, run fundraisers, become advocates, become Official Members and volunteer on our committee. Each person and family has contributed their own piece of the puzzle and made Project Kindy what it is today and we are all deeply grateful. I am especially thankful to those who have donated time, expertise and energy to volunteer on our Committee. Many thanks to Dad (Peter McDade), Julie Soh, Kiara Palmer, Allison White, Belinda Starrenburg, Geoff Smith, Kate Prior, Toni Dugdale, Rochelle Palmer and Cass Bull for their time on the Committee.

Now we are at a crossroads, looking ahead to the next 5 to 10 years. We need more people to join our Village and lend their expertise, wisdom, time, effort and resources to help us expand our support to more kindergartens in underserved villages in rural Malawi. Will you help? We would LOVE to have you as part of our story. Thank you.