It takes many people working together to fulfill Pamoza’s mission. Some of these people work diligently behind the scenes and never seek any recognition. At Pamoza, we value the contributions of all our staff, volunteers, and supporters. That’s why we created this space to highlight individuals who work behind the scenes to help advance our work in Malawi.

Meet Melissa Nyoni

Melissa Nyoni has been with Pamoza since the very beginning, way before we even became an official non-profit organization. 

Melissa is thoughtful, diligent, and committed to the work that we do in Malawi. She is Pamoza’s co-founder, first Executive Director, current Board Chair, and “honorary Malawian.” 

Those of you who have supported Pamoza for a long time might already know her story, but many of you do not. So we took a moment to interview Melissa so we can all learn more about who she is and how she became involved with Pamoza. 

When you were just 21 years old, you decided to leave the U.S. and live in Malawi. What led you to that decision? 

Melissa and Bethany (who also went to Malawi) with some of their friends in Zowe.

When I was in college in 2003, I took a class called “Poverty, Oppression and Development in Africa.” It was taught by Dr. Mike Mtika. This class involved a two-week trip to Malawi. During that time we got to spend three days staying overnight with a family in Zowe. We conducted interviews and learned about the people and the culture. I absolutely loved the experience.

I was an anthropology major and I felt like I was finally getting to put some of that into practice. I got excited about what I saw in the community and the potential I saw in people and the difference we could make working together to help meet some of the needs that the people of Malawi were facing. 

Out of that class I decided that I would go back to Malawi for a year to start implementing some of these projects. And so I did that in the summer of 2005 along with two other Eastern graduates, Christy and Bethany. During that time we helped build a clinic, ran some bible studies, taught in the schools, and got some of the projects started that we were working on in the class. So for me, one year turned to three years and it was just an amazing experience getting the work of Pamoza started before Pamoza even existed. 

What was it like staying in rural Malawi those three years you were there?

Melissa carrying water on her head after getting it from the borehole

It was definitely a cultural shock at first. It was very different than living in the US. When we first moved there we lived in a teacher’s house, which was really just a mud hut with a grass-thatched roof. We were also building a brick house that would have some solar lights, but it was definitely a very different experience. We had to carry our own water, cook over the fire, and do so many things that we never thought about doing on our own with no running water, no plumbing and no way of doing things the way we often do them in America. 

It was a big learning curve and a challenge in a lot of ways, but it was also very fun and exciting. We made really great relationships with some of the people. Since we lived really close to the school, we got to to interact with the school children a lot. It was such a blessing. They would come to our house where we had lots of library books and they would check out some of the books. We learned to speak Tumbuka by trying to talk and engage with them and that was a really fun experience. 

What were your fondest memories?

Melissa with some of the original breakfast committee members

One of my fondest memories of my time in Malawi in those first three years was starting the breakfast program and working with the women involved in that committee. When we started the School Breakfast Program, the goal was to provide breakfast for the children at Zowe Primary School every day. Many of the students were coming to school having not eaten anything and wouldn’t eat until later in the day and the situation was even worse during “the hungry season” when many families started running out of their harvest. 

So we decided to make a very nutritious porridge to help support the children. But we also wanted to do it in a way that engaged people in leadership in the community and allowed the community to take ownership of it. And so when we first started the program, I got to work with a committee of fifteen women, one from each village. They led teams of volunteers for their village to prepare the porridge, and planned and put together the program. It was a really amazing experience getting to know these women and work with them. I saw them take on leadership roles in their community to make a difference for their own children. That was definitely one of the best experiences of working in Malawi at that time. 

Can you tell us a little about your involvement with Pamoza International since the time you returned from Malawi? What various roles have you played at Pamoza?

Since returning from Malawi, I have been involved with Pamoza International in a variety of ways. When we first worked in Malawi we were with Eastern University and then with an organization called Giving Heart Ministries. The work was underway in the community, but Pamoza International did not exist until 2011. The work Pamoza was doing was already underway in the community but the actual organization was founded in 2011. Dr. Mike Mtika and I worked together, with a lot of help and an amazing team of volunteers, to get Pamoza officially incorporated and established as a 501(C)3. 

Melissa with a team she took to Malawi in 2011

During the first year and a half, I served as the Executive Director to help us get started and off the ground.  I then realized that as much as I love the work of Pamoza, my gifts were better suited in other places. And so I happily gave the responsibilities of Executive Director to Temwa who has grown Pamoza in leaps and bounds since and it has been exciting to watch. I have continued to serve on the board in different capacities, providing perspective and guidance. I served as the Board Secretary and I now serve as the Board Chair.  It has been exciting to be a part of Pamoza’s growth over the years and to see how things have amazingly changed and transformed the lives of people in the communities we serve, and in our own lives as well. 

How do you see Pamoza now? What are your hopes and dreams for the organization? What are you most proud of? 

Pamoza is now doing absolutely amazing things; things I never could  have dreamed possible all those years ago in 2004 when I first stepped foot in Malawi. It’s incredible to see how a group of people, when they are filled with the love of Christ and committed to seeing real transformation happen, can make amazing things come about in their communities.  So it’s exciting to see where Pamoza has expanded from just a few projects in one small community to working in over 20 different communities impacting so many lives on so many levels. 

My hope and dream for Pamoza as an organization is that it continues to grow and impact lives, and it continues to do that by  working together with the people in the U.S. and those being served in Malawi. One of the amazing things about Pamoza is that it empowers people to improve their own lives and make a difference in their communities. It has been exciting to see how that pamoza mindset, not just the work of Pamoza, is helping people to become catalysts for change in their families, in their villages, and in the larger community setting. My hope is that the mission of Pamoza will continue to expand to new places and impact more lives. I know that God has more in store for Pamoza and I can’t wait to see how that unfolds. 

Meet Fanny Nkhonje

Fanny Nkhonje is our bookkeeper in Malawi. We are blessed to have Fanny on our staff, but we knew her long before she started working for us. “I became a born-again Christian through Pamoza. The Word of God was preached in my village and I was moved. I surrendered my life to Christ.”

We caught up with Fanny to learn more about her journey and experience working for Pamoza International. Fanny is one of our hardest workers. She does not shy away from challenging tasks and always seeks to enhance her knowledge for her role. This year, Fanny, who is one of three women on our staff, received the Employee of the Year Award. It was well earned and we couldn’t be more proud of her. 

What do you like about working at Pamoza International?

What I like about Pamoza is that the organization is about transforming the lives of children and families and I find that to be the most important thing in one’s life. Also, Pamoza addresses all areas of well-being like in our CHIEF Program (character, health, income, education, and food security). That inspires me. Being a part of the organization, I am learning about how my life, and that of my family, can be transformed from one level to the next.

What is the hardest part about your job?

The hardest part about my job is that it is very demanding and requires me to work during and after office hours. I sometimes work on weekends especially when there are payments to be processed. I have to prepare the vouchers, get them signed, move from one bank to the other, etc.

What is your favorite Pamoza program and why?

My favorite program is agriculture. I love farming and the agriculture program at Pamoza is close to my heart. It shows me that one can really be changed through proper agricultural practices, especially here in rural Malawi.

How has your life changed because of Pamoza?

My life has changed in many areas through Pamoza, especially in my spiritual life. I became a born-again Christian because of Pamoza. Someone from Pamoza came to my village and preached the word of God. It moved me and I surrendered my life to Christ and made him Lord of my life. 

How can we pray for you?

Please pray for God to always grant me more grace in life. I believe that every good thing I have in my life is there by the grace of God and this includes my workplace, my family, etc. I would like for God’s grace to continually flow in my life.

Fanny after receiving Employee of the Year Award in October 2020

Meet Karissa and Brandon Forino

Meet two of our most committed volunteers: Brandon & Karissa. We were so excited when they got married in 2019! We knew that together, they would be a great force for change. This couple volunteers for Pamoza in so many ways – helping us enhance our financial processes, supporting our mission team, participating in our 5K, traveling to Malawi, and building corporate sponsors! So we asked them some questions to find out why they do what they do for others.

You have been involved with Pamoza for some time now. What keeps you involved?

We love Pamoza! From the mission to the staff, every part of Pamoza makes us feel welcome to give our time and serve. Pamoza’s dedication to sustainable, Christ-centered community development is at the core of our love for this organization. I (Karissa) saw this firsthand when I studied abroad in Malawi with Dr. Mtika, and serving with Pamoza has been very close to my heart ever since.

Our relationships with staff and other volunteers over the past few years have made Pamoza feel like family, and has continued to grow our love for the work they do.

Karissa in Malawi in 2016

One of the things you decided to do after graduating from college was to support Pamoza with a monthly donation. What made you decide to donate every month instead of once in a while?

Giving consistently was something we knew we wanted to prioritize both as new graduates and as newlyweds. Our hearts are deeply connected to Pamoza and we knew giving monthly would not only have the greatest impact, but also was a way to faithfully commit to supporting God’s work in Malawi.

What is one of your favorite memories volunteering with Pamoza?

Brandon and Karissa at Pamoza’s 1st gala

One of our favorite experiences volunteering together for Pamoza was the Gala. The evening was such a testament to the wonderful work Pamoza does, and it highlighted the beautiful community of staff, volunteers and donors who all make this work
possible. It was an honor to volunteer for the first ever Pamoza Gala, and not to mention it was a total blast!

What do you think is something someone can easily do to help Pamoza and the people we serve in Malawi?

One of the easiest, but most impactful things someone could do for Pamoza is pray! Pray for the work, the staff, and the people they serve. If you already pray for Pamoza regularly, another easy way to support their work is by joining their recycling program. Donate empty ink cartridges, used cell phones, and aluminum cans which can be recycled for cash to fund Pamoza programs. Think broadly, you can find these items at your work, at home, or even at church!