Local nonprofit hosts Family Fun Day! to raise money for schools in Malawi
By: Sam Draddy
The Desks Project, a non-profit organization launched by College Park residents Chikondi Kulemeka and her father, Andrew, hosted a family fair at Duvall Field on July 23. Moon bounces, concessions, games and much more brought families out to enjoy a sunny day and support a good cause; the project supports students in Malawi, a country in Southeastern Africa, by furnishing their schools with desks.
“My dad really wanted to do this,” Chikondi Kulemeka said. “He has been talking about having a fun family activity for people in the local College Park community because that is where we are based from. We are always looking to do more fundraisers in College Park and would love to connect with the community on the University of Maryland’s campus as well.”
Chikondi Kulemeka taught English at the Chankhanga Primary School in Kasungu. She quickly noticed that none of the first- through eighth-grade students had desks in their classrooms; witnessing about 100 children in each class sitting on the ground, she felt the urge to take action. After some deliberation with her cousin, Kulemeka talked with staff at the school to see if providing desks would even be possible.
“I realized it was going to cost nearly $50,000, and as a 20-year-old with like $20 in my bank account, I did not think I could do it,” she said.
After speaking with her parents and getting their support, Kulemeka immersed herself in learning about how to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. She soon put together teams to help her in both the United States and Malawi, and The Desks Project became a reality. Chikondi Kulemeka now runs the organization with her father, Andrew Kulemeka, who is a retired teacher.
They launched the nonprofit in 2017 and completed their first project by 2019, furnishing all of Chankhanga Primary School’s classrooms and providing desks to approximately 5,000 students. Andrew Kulemeka went to Malawi in 2019 to celebrate their accomplishment and check out the finished products, but when he got there, he was surprised to see something that had not been there before.
The Chankhanga Primary School had previously asked The Desks Project team to help build a fence around their school, since it was close to an open market which created a lot of traffic in the area.
“I told them that, unfortunately, in order to maximize our impact, we just need to focus our funds specifically on the desks,” Chikondi Kulemeka said.
When Andrew Kulemeka returned, though, he saw that a fence had been built around the school, even though The Desks Project had not raised money for this to happen.
“The community had raised money by themselves and provided labor. They very clearly said that a young girl from the United States really inspired them with the idea that they could also take action themselves,” Andrew Kulemeka said. “It’s amazing to see that the community was inspired by what Chikondi had done for the school.”
The Desks Project has fully furnished two schools since 2017, both the Chankhanga Primary School and the Kalilombe Primary School, which together enroll about 1,100 students.
An article published in July of this year in the Nyasa Times quoted Monica Chang’anamuno, Malawi’s education deputy minister, as saying that the country is in need of over two million desks for students. Chikondi Kulemeka had a ready response: “Our ultimate goal is to fully tackle this problem,” she said.
The Desk Project’s organizers hope that the July event, Family Fun Day!, is just the start of a broader campaign to be more involved with the community of College Park.
“We would love to get more community members from the College Park area, and we are looking to get more involved there,” Chikondi said. “We are very interested in teaming up with any businesses or organizations in the community.”
To read more about The Desks Project or to volunteer, go to thedesksproject.org. The project will be new Team USA members starting in September. No experience is required, and the organization accepts highschoolers and adults as volunteers. The website also includes links to donate, buy merchandise, learn about teams and get information about upcoming events.