A Tomato Brings Hope to Malawi

Maloto is an umbrella organization for three projects, including an orphan-feeding program and a school. The word maloto means “dreams,” but this nonprofit’s mission is much clearer than such a fuzzy concept: to feed, educate, and empower children and families. The idea came to Maloto founder and president Anna Msowoya Keys when she traveled from New York to her native Malawi in 2003 to attend the funeral of her sister, who, like so many others in their community, had succumbed to HIV/AIDS. At the funeral, Keys was shocked to learn how many children were orphaned by the disease.

So she decided to do something about it. She partnered with the Kwithu Kitchen, a women-owned food-processing cooperative. The kitchen teaches women how to run a business centered around growing, canning, and selling tomatoes—an idea sparked by an observation that so many tomatoes were being sold at the roadside, then left to rot. A Maloto board member from the United States took supplies to Malawi and taught the women how to preserve the fruit.

“Initially, we just wanted to feed the kids that we take care of—some are HIV-positive and some are just in really vulnerable situations with malnutrition,” says Keys. Now that they can sell their processed fruit, a staple in nearly every Malawian dish, they can use the money to purchase other essentials. “We want this to be a viable business in Malawi and to be able to educate the kids,” says Keys. They’ve brought down costs by using plastic pouches and selling to local restaurants, thus alleviating transportation fees.

We want this to be a viable business in Malawi and to be able to educate the kids

The kitchen has about 25 women teaching and canning, but the plan is to grow and innovate. Keys recently set up a school, the Mzuzu International Academy (MIA), which offers an international curriculum and scholarships. “Those kids come back to the center and teach the little ones,” Keys says.

The organization is almost entirely funded by private donations from Americans and the Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund (MICF), though one benefactor has given the Kwithu Kitchen some much-needed media attention. Veteran broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw did a piece highlighting his wife’s work—Meredith Brokaw was a board member and is still involved with the organization. Money followed.

Still, many Americans remain concerned that money donated to Africa-based charities may fall into the wrong hands. Board members and public documents confirm that funds donated to Maloto go directly to the three programs—Keys didn’t even take a salary in her first year on the job. To incentivize donors, each is given an open-ended invitation to visit once a year. Seeing lives changed firsthand, the thinking goes, will encourage generous visitors to stay connected to these determined kids for life.

If you’re interested in visiting the Kwithu Kitchen in Malawi, go to maloto.org/contact-us.