In the East African nation of Malawi, the world’s ninth poorest nation, one out of four people is an orphaned or vulnerable child living below the poverty line. A worrisome 74% of the nation’s 16 million people live on less than US$1.25 per day; 46% of Malawi children under five are stunted by malnutrition, and 50% of the children drop out of school by the fourth grade. Fortunately, the compassion and entrepreneurial spirit of the local people are great enough to overcome seemingly overwhelming challenges.
One of the organizations stepping up to partner with Malawi’s local leaders is New York- and Malawi-based Goods for Good, a 501I3 nonprofit organization founded by Melissa Kushner—a New Yorker whose position at the United Nations took her to Malawi in 2005.
Familiar with the impact that losing a parent can have on a child’s life, Kushner committed herself to ensuring that the death of one or both parents would not determine the fate of Malawi’s one million orphans.
On her first trip there, she brought boxes of excess school supplies, and she saw the immediate impact on the children upon receiving their brand-new pens, pencils, paper, shoes, fabric for uniforms, etc. Moved by the country’s orphan crisis and the inspiring support and entrepreneurial spirit of local leaders, she founded Goods for Good. Traveling from village to village that first year, she built partnerships with local community centers, which formed the foundation for GFG’s growth.
Using an unusual business model—partnering directly with Malawian community centers to equip them with the resources and knowledge they need to launch profitable small businesses—has been successful. The community centers have become fiscally equipped to care for orphans, creating jobs and ultimately boosting the local economy.
Kushner knew that bringing this unique story back to the U.S. would need an emotional element to drive home the hope and the urgency. Lightbulb moment. Her friend, New York wedding photographer Brian Marcus—who covered her wedding a few years earlier—could create emotional images if he were able to take on the assignment. Understanding the need, Marcus signed on and wrapped up his current assignments.
Six months later, equipped with not much more than his Nikon D3, 70–200mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4 and 24–70mm f/2.8 Nikkor lenses, and a GL-1 Hotlight, he accompanied Kushner to Malawi to document the work being done.
“I stayed for 10 days and traveled four hours to get to one small school, made of mud, with over 50 orphans,” recalls Marcus. “We gave them goods donated from all over the U.S.” Adds Kushner, “When he wasn’t in the middle of a group of children, camera in hand, Brian was strumming on a guitar, leading an impromptu sing-along.”
Back in the U.S., Marcus organized a gallery show of his photographs at New York City’s Chelsea Art Museum. He curated and planned the exhibit, ensuring that no detail was left unaddressed. The show drew 500 attendees, including guests, friends and clients of Fred Marcus Studio—the third-generation, high-end wedding and portrait studio where his father, Andy, serves as president. The event raised $60,000 through a silent auction, all of which went to GFG to help further the kids’ education.
Kushner’s hunch was spot on. Marcus’s images became a boon to her fundraising efforts. Says Kushner, “Shooting with the utmost dignity and respect, he captured the transformation that happens when you invest in a child’s community, instead of giving a handout. The photos capture the struggles and beauty of life in the African country and illustrate the group’s work more powerfully than words could ever do. We’re lucky to have him as a partner.”
Marcus summed up his 10-day Malawi adventure: “My stay in Malawi was a real eye-opener. It reminded me that talk is cheap and action is what converts an opportunity into a reality. I was invigorated by the stories told through just a few images. I’m thrilled that my photographs are part of the solution in Malawi. I plan to lend support to the people and GFG as often as possible.”