Snapshots of Malawi #7 – “The Long Play: Projects vs. Programs.”

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Over the past several weeks, we’ve taken a closer look at the on-the-ground work in Zomba and Thyolo. It’s hard to sum everything up into concise paragraphs, and it’s even harder to tie everything into a nice bow. But I have saved my very favorite Malawi Snapshot for this—the last blog.

With projects like clothing distribution, orphan home construction, and even child sponsorship, you make a tangible difference—but it’s not always possible to see the long-term impact. Even when you know the vision, you don’t always get to see how the story ends. What does FCW’s work actually do? What’s the long play?

During one of our team meetings, our fearless leader Jeff Patterson explained the difference between “project-based” ministry and “program-based” ministry. Nonprofit organizations typically start their work in a project-based mindset, focusing on singular deficiencies and obstacles that need to be overcome. Orphan home construction and clothing donations are projects that fall into this category.

After almost a decade of work in Malawi, Forgotten Children has matured into a program-based ministry, focusing on overcoming systemic barriers and challenges. With immediate needs like shelter, food, and water already met, FCW can now design long-term programs that create sustainable change—and our team got to see one of them.

Throughout our week in Malawi, we took a few “detours” into local villages. On each stop, we visited a graduate of Zomba’s budding vocational program, which teaches students to be seamstresses and tailors. With the skills they learn in this program, graduates can start their own businesses in their home communities.

The students we visited were part of the first-ever graduating class—and thanks to the funding of generous donors, every graduate was gifted a sewing machine when the class ended. We got to see some of those machines in action, and it was incredible.

The graduates we met were so proud to show us their businesses, display the clothes they’d made, and introduce us to their families. One woman even told us, “Because I know how to run this business, I can afford to send my daughter to school.”

It would have been one thing to read reports on the program—reports that were designed to make it look as successful as possible. Numbers are easy to manipulate. (Trust me, I work in marketing.) But testimonials are harder to control, and it was a completely different experience to hear all the graduates share about how the program changed their lives.

Zomba is in the midst of training its second class of seamstresses and tailors, and part of our Vision Trip centered on improving upon the successful model. Future plans include a supplemental course on business and entrepreneurship—and maybe even more vocational programs. The future is bright. The investment is worth it.


Our self-sustainability programs are stopping generational poverty in its tracks by empowering and equipping students with marketable skills. Learn more about these programs—and how you can get involved.

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