At the age of 21, Malerie Pratt of Bend is already making an impact on lives in Africa
Living a purposeful life isn’t just a motto to Malerie Pratt, 21. Instead, it’s how she goes about making changes in the world she finds herself in. Two years ago, that meant traveling from Italy to Africa to volunteer for three months. “I went with the intent to help,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I was helping, not making demands for food and housing. I didn’t want to show up with expectations that others would take care of me and make me comfortable. I really wanted to spend time in a place where I could make a difference in the short time I would be there.” Ultimately, she ended up in Zambia and she stayed for about six months instead of the planned three. During that time, she learned about the millions of abused and abandoned children “just surviving.” In a country with a population of about 11 million people, one in 10 is a child orphaned by AIDS or malaria. Some children have extended families, but many of those can’t care for them adequately. Others live on the streets begging or turn to prostitution to survive. Malnutrition, abuse and disease shape these children’s lives much more than family, school and home. She learned more after she met Violet.
“... we pledge to bind ourselves to one another ...” This quote from Maya Angelou shapes Malerie Pratt’s Life
22 | Winter 2007 | U MAGAZINE Membe, a social worker working at the nutrition center where Pratt volunteered. There were so many children in Zambia who needed homes, but Membe was not interested in institutionalizing them. Instead, the idea was to build a home where the children could be raised as a Zambian family. Together, Membe and Pratt came up with a plan. Two years later, Pratt’s stint volunteering in Africa has now turned into a lifetime commitment. “I’ll never be alone again,” she said. “I have nine children to support.” That’s a tall order for a 21 year old. But again, Pratt is going about the details in a purposeful way. When she returned home in 2005 with the plan she and Membe had created, she immediately set about forming a nonprofit organization so she could raise the money needed to build the home they envisioned, and the money needed to support it with the essentials of raising a family—food, medical care, tuition and uniforms. One of her first steps was to recruit support from some people she admired at home, including Marlena Bellavia, a former teacher and friend. “[Pratt] had such passion and excitement for this, we couldn’t help but get involved,” Bellavia said. “We agreed to help her form a nonprofit. None of us knew what we were getting into, but just a year later, it became a reality.” Vima Lupwa Homes officially opened on Dec. 16, 2006—Pratt’s 21st birthday. Bellavia has since traveled to Zambia to experience Pratt and Membe’s dream firsthand. It is now an orphanage in Zambia supported by nonprofit in American. But, according to Pratt, it’s really a family and a home. “We provide everything a normal Zambian home would have,” she said, including parents and siblings. These roles are filled by Violet and her husband, Mwala, and their children. But building the home and filling it with children was not the end. Raising these children is not easy. They have lived in terrible circumstances, been abused, have health problems, and many have had little education or felt he security of a loving family. “It takes a long time to break the cycles of poverty and abuse,” Pratt explained. The children have behavioral and emotional issues. They hoard food, they abuse each other, and they act out in other ways that reflect the fear they’ve lived with much of their young lives. In response, Pratt and Membe focus on giving these children the education, tools and security they need to be successful adults who can, in turn, become contributors to and builders of a stronger Zambian society.In Zambia, that means creating a family that is self-sufficient. This includes having a chicken coop, growing a garden, and running a small bicycle repair business. “In addition to going to school, the children are learning the life skills they need. Our goal is to have them ready and excited to change their world,” said Pratt, with emphasis on “their.” You see, Pratt “doesn’t believe in charity” and doesn’t believe she’s in the business of charity now even though she’s technically the executive director of a nonprofit. The last thing she wants to be seen as is “this white An orphan from Zambia (left) shows off the artwork she painted for Malerie Pratt and Vima Lupwa Homes. The artwork has been displayed at Thump Coffee in downtown Bend. At right, Pratt and a supporter look through the various artwork drawn by orphans
Some have criticized her focus on Africa when there is so much need right here at home. “But I didn’t think of it that way,“ Pratt explained. “I just did what I saw needed to be done.” “That is typical of Malerie,” said Bellavia. “She understood then—and now—that no matter how small the effort, taking action can make a difference.” “Everyone can accomplish great things,” Pratt said, immediately following that statement with a comment that she doesn’t really see herself as a role model. “It’s just that when I see a problem, I don’t like to just talk about it. People talk about the state of the world. I say ‘quit talking and do something.’ “ “That’s also pretty typical of Malerie,” said Bellavia. “She has a passion for helping people. And she acts on it.”
person who went to Africa to save people.” Instead, she believes in the power of each individual to make a difference in this world. And she believes the best people to change their own world are the people who live there, not others. Vima Lupwa was built entirely by Zambians, not volunteers. In fact, Pratt is usually the only white person in the community when she is in Zambia. Now back at home in Bend for a year to focus on her education (Pratt has ambitions of becoming a doctor specializing in women’s and children’s care), she continues to work on behalf of Vima Lupwa Homes, raising awareness and money. And she continues to advocate for taking action, no matter what the challenge or the goal.
About Vima Lupwa Homes
If you would like to learn more about Vima Lupwa Homes, visit their Web site at www.lupwahomes.org. Based in Bend, the nonprofit raises money to support the homes and children in Zambia. It requires about $500 a month to sustain the family, and they are also raising money with the intention of building a second home.