When Mary Tuchscherer heard a most unforgettable story, she knew she couldn't just sit still and do nothing.
The Lafayette resident heard about how the women of the African country of Malawi literally risk their lives just to tend to the growth of cassava, their livelihood and staple food grown in isolated swamp areas. During one of her visits to Malawi, Tuchscherer took a visit to one of the cassava wells.
"Women are subject to danger -- disease, crocodiles and rape," she said. "If a mother is sick, she sends her 10-year-old daughter to the cassava wells. Women have no protection and are exposed to all sorts of predators to help their family survive. When I heard about it, this broke me open. My sisters in another part of the world were in danger and I couldn't just sit in my living room at home and not be a part of something."
Tuchscherer got that call to action when she visited Malawi for the first time, to meet with women from different backgrounds who she discovered read from the same American best-selling books list that she did. Yet these women didn't have books to read penned by any Malawian women writers.
So Tuchscherer said she made it her mission to give a voice to these invisible, voiceless women. She established VoiceFlame, a nonprofit organization providing writing workshops, leadership training, school scholarships and publication opportunities to Malawian women. Since her first trip in 2007, she's brought women
VoiceFlame's mission resulted in an anthology of stories by the women of Malawi and the North American women. Titled "Nda Ku Ona," translated as "I See You With My Heart," connects the prizewinning writing contests stories written by Malawian women to the experiences of the North American volunteers.
"VoiceFlame is building awareness about these women," said Tuchscherer, a writing workshop facilitator certified through the Amherst Writers and Artists method.
"Before I went to Malawi, I didn't think about women in Malawi. I didn't have a face I could identify; I didn't have a relationship with the struggles that were happening on the other side of the world. It didn't have anything to do with me. Once they shared their stories, they became real. When I came back home after my first trip, I literally felt them with me. They were my sisters now, and I couldn't forget them."
Tuchscherer stresses that she and the North American women volunteers aren't the Malawi women's saviors.
"We are not helping them -- we're collaborating with them," she said. "We're not imposing ourselves on them. We're there in solidarity with them. We're there by invitation. They want to write and learn to write to tell their stories."
What's important to note is that Malawian women range from those with little education to those who have attained degrees, said VoiceFlame's Chief Financial Officer Sue Hickman.
"The Malawians don't want to be looked at as poverty-stricken," said Hickman, a Lafayette resident. "They want to be looked at as an opportunity for growth and potential."
Tuchscherer and Hickman say they plan to return to Malawi next spring and hope to recruit new volunteers who can teach quilting to the Malawian women.
"Quilting is another way for women to tell their stories plus, it may help make a livelihood," Tuchscherer said.
The Malawian women were surprised that anyone would be interested in their stories, Tuchscherer said.
"When they shared their stories they learn information from each other and how to support each other," Tuchscherer said. "Writing has a powerful impact, a domino effect when passed forward. This is beyond creative writing; this is writing from the heart."
WHAT: Book release of "Nda Ku Ona," ("I See You With My Heart) Stories by the women of Malawi
WHEN: 6:45-8 p.m. Aug. 30
WHERE: Read Booksellers, 3630 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville
INFORMATION: Visit www.voiceflame.org
Writing Workshop Fundraiser Supporting the Women in Malawi
WHEN: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 6
WHERE: Downtown Concord
INFORMATION: Visit www.voiceflame.org or e-mail email@example.com