In the movies, it’s a familiar storyline: superheroes joining forces to tackle a world crisis.
But CNN Heroes can do it, too. Marie Da Silva, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow and Evans Wadongo are working together to help AIDS orphans in the African nation of Malawi.
In 2002, Da Silva started the Jacaranda School in Malawi, where half a million children have been orphaned by AIDS. For her efforts, she was honored as a top 10 CNN Hero in 2008.
Today, there are 400 children in the school, and they’re also benefiting from the help of two top 10 Heroes from 2010: Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, whose organization, Mary’s Meals, feeds more than 600,000 schoolchildren around the globe; and Evans Wadongo, who has brought more than 23,000 free solar lanterns to rural African communities through his nonprofit, Sustainable Development For All.
CNN recently spoke with Da Silva about the team-up and how it’s helping the children.
CNN: How did you connect with Magnus?
Marie Da Silva: I went to the CNN Heroes tribute show in 2010, and I saw Magnus because he was one of the top 10 CNN Heroes. In his speech, he mentioned … how he was feeding over 300,000 children in Malawi. And it touched me. So, after he got his award, I had to go and see him and say thank you.
But there was something else that was happening at our school at that same time. For all the years that I had the school, I was buying the porridge for the children, costing me something like $500 a month. Then, for a time, we were given porridge by (another organization) … but we had had a drought in Malawi, so I was panicking.
I went up to Magnus and … I told him what was going on at the school. I felt a little embarrassed, but I just asked him to consider us. Now, he’s feeding all 400 of our students a day.
Some of these children do go without food at home, and most of them come without breakfast to school. This porridge has all the nutrients needed and is made of soya, too — one of the healthiest meals our orphans can have each day. We have many students who are HIV-positive, so Mary’s Meals is saving lives by keeping our children healthy.
CNN: How has Magnus’ support enabled you to do more for your students?
Da Silva: The high school students who stayed in school through the afternoon … they were weak, most sleeping in class. (Mary’s Meals) agreed to provide an additional meal of porridge for (them) at noon. This has resulted in a lot more attendance at the school and students studying with energy.
One of our college graduates is now working for Mary’s Meals as a field monitor. We are so proud. … This is what we want: to see them graduate and get quality jobs.
Mary’s Meals built a new stove for us that uses less firewood and cooks our porridge even faster. … Now, the most firewood we will use is about seven pieces, down from 40 pieces. So we’ve actually saved our costs. And the most important thing is, we’re saving the environment.
Magnus, he’s really a saint to me. His support means a lot to us. Every day, the children will always have something to eat, so we are thankful.
Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2012 CNN Heroes
CNN: How did you come to work with Evans Wadongo?
Da Silva: I first heard about Evans through CNN Heroes. I met him through a friend of mine, Lane Hill, who thought Evans should come to teach our kids to build the (solar lanterns).
Then Robert Burke, a math teacher at the Shanghai American School in China — one of our biggest supporters — was looking for another project for his students to become involved in. … Since seeing my story on TV, they’ve visited us and donated money to build our first toilets with running water, a clinic and a physics and science lab. … So, (he) raised money to bring this project to life.
Today, I’m happy to tell you that we have over 200 lamps made by the kids themselves with the help of Evans and his team, and we distributed the lamps to the kids who are taking their examinations.
For the family, (this) cuts the costs. And for the children, it’s helping them to study. And during this examination time … I’m sure we’re going to see better results, so we’re very thankful to Evans.
CNN: How did your students respond to him?
Da Silva: Evans brought a lot more than just those lamps to our students. … He’s a young African guy, and they’re young African students, so … he’s motivated our kids to be inventors. They’ve come up with their own little models that work just like Evans’ lamps. … He really gave them confidence that they, too, can make something that can help people and change people’s lives.
This summer, the kids will be making their own designs and (giving) a lamp and a book out in the villages and to schools. This will be our first outreach program … teaching our kids to give back.
CNN: Are you surprised that two of your fellow honorees have been able to help you?
Da Silva: CNN Heroes coming together to work together is something that I don’t see as that unusual. All of us (are) doing something that is helping others, so when we hear each other’s stories, we just want to see if we can help.
It’s a family, you know? You want to help your family. I love it, and it makes a huge difference.