Melissa Kushner, Founder of Yamba Malawi

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What is the mission of yamba malawi?

Yamba Malawi transforms children’s lives by empowering communities to break the cycle of poverty.

Why did you decide to start yamba malawi?

My father passed away three weeks before I was born. This experience made me hardwired to care about orphans and vulnerable children. This interest brought me to Malawi, a country in Southern Africa where 50% of the population is under the age of 18 and the vast majority of children are made vulnerable because of extreme poverty and disease. Yamba Malawi addresses the root cause of poverty by working with guardians and community members to start businesses and invest profits in the wellbeing of children. This breaks the cycle of poverty for children and changes the prospects for Malawi’s current and next generation.

How would you connect yamba malawi to a Jewish value?

Maimonides created a list of the eight levels of tzedakah, with the highest form being helping someone become self-sufficient. This level of giving also discusses the importance of offering counsel to those in need. In turn this type of tzedakah transforms individuals from being a recipient into one with the capacity to give to others. These are the core tenets of Yamba Malawi’s work. In addition to providing guardians with the funds to start a business we also counsel our beneficiaries in business management, financial training and accessing services for their children. This enables our partners to lift themselves out of poverty and serve as inspiration and mentors to others in need. 

what’s a a story that has happened with yamba malawi that has inspired you?

The Basikolo family are subsistence farmers living in a small mud hut with no electricity and running water in rural Malawi. Like so many families in Malawi, they struggled to put food on their table and meet their basic needs. The Basikolos joined our Childhoods and Livelohoods Program last year, receiving the startup capital and training to start a soy and groundut business. This year, the Basikolos have earned 12 times more income that last year. Here is a link to video about father and son in the family.

What has surprised you about working with your organization?

There is a temptation to just see a problem and fix it. Especially because we are talking about children’s lives, but the reality is that real and lasting change takes time. It takes trial and error and constant learning and iterating.

What's the best part of your job and why?

Hands down, being with the children and their guardians. I love learning about people and from people. Seeing the lives of children and their families improve year over year is what makes this job worthwhile. You can go to a child’s home one year and there is no food, no blankets, nothing. Then you can go back the next year and see a totally different picture.

What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?

Volunteer your time in our office or at our events. Spread the word about our work among friends, colleagues and on social media. Introduce us to like-minded partners.  

To learn more about Yamba Malawi visit

InterviewsAmy Benarroch