After meeting Christie Johnson in 2003, I was amazed at the determination of this young Canadian teacher who decided she would help a group of Malawian girls after their Canadian-funded school closed its doors. I remember thinking, How can one person decide to do so much for so many and then succeed? Christie’s vision and determination seemed extraordinary to me. Later I met Memory Chazeza, and I was confronted with yet another individual whose drive and tenacity appeared almost audacious. These two women have taught me that with passion and perseverance, anything is possible.
In 2007 I set out to write Memory’s story and the story of her school. Of course it is a story in which Christie also plays a prominent role, and it has grown in scope since it’s inception, now encompassing “the story” of all Malawian women along with their dreams, challenges and triumphs. To write this book — A Light in the Warm Heart of Africa — I have travelled to the country on several occasions. On my last trip, in 2009, I thought, Well, I’m here anyway, why not collect some stories from the Atsikana Pa Ulendo girls and turn them into an anthology? I had the means to accomplish this task through the small publishing company that I co-own: Prairie Dog Publishing. I thought it would be an interesting project, and it seemed like an obvious way to raise awareness about the school and to help people begin to understand the lives of these young women. In Their Own Words: The Girls of Atsikana Pa Ulendo Tell Their Stories was born.
As I read the stories, I began to realize the wealth of narrative I held in my hands. These girls had given us all a great gift. With their words, they had welcomed us into their lives. These are precious snapshots of the girls’ personal dreams, private tragedies and quirky humour. Since then the book has slowly taken shape. The making of this book has not been an easy task, but I believe it has been well worth the effort.
We, at Prairie Dog Publishing, hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed producing it. These stories are precious. We pass them on to you.
Roberta Laurie, 2011