Tulane sororities help build school in Malawi


Courtesy of Julia Hankins

Fifteen women representing all eight Tulane sororities traveled to Nkoka, Malawi to build a school in support of women’s education this summer.

Fifteen women from various Tulane sororities traveled to Nkoka, Malawi, for 10 days to build a school this summer. 

The Circle of Sisterhood Foundation connected Tulane sorority members with the international nonprofit organization buildOn, which provided staff and resources for the project. When selecting a building location, the organization created covenants with partner villages to ensure that the schools would carry out the goals of Circle of Sisterhood to educate girls.

“BuildOn puts in their covenants with these communities that they have to have at least 50 percent of girls going to these schools,” Julia Hankins, associate director of sorority programs, said.

Organizers undertook the project because there was only one school in Nkoka that taught first through fourth grade. Children would have to travel more than an hour away to school once they completed fourth grade. The school the trip-goers helped build will provide education for the fifth through eighth grades. 

The Tulane students on the trip spent at least four hours a day at the work site constructing the school. 

According to Pi Beta Phi fraternity member and sophomore Tamar Arenson, the local villagers brought energy to the team as they worked alongside Tulane students.

“Every single second, whether we were hammering away at boxes or bringing water from the well, they were singing and dancing,” Arenson said.

Senior Carly Greenbaum, Panhellenic vice president of philanthropy and Chi Omega sorority member, was surprised to see the women of the community also working on the project with her and the team.

“I thought it was just going to be a lot of men out there with us every day, but the women were out there doing everything you could possibly imagine,” Greenbaum said. “… they had babies on their backs and they did everything with a smile … ”

As the trip-goers worked alongside the Malawian community, they saw the impact of their work firsthand on a trip to a completed buildOn school. The trip-goers connected with both children and adults who would either receive a full education or return to finish their previous education due to the work of buildOn and Circle of Sisterhood. Arenson said that one woman from the village began to discuss the motivation behind her pursuit of education.

“I stayed in the program because I knew if ever given the chance, I wanted to thank the buildOn community and those that built this school in their language … ,” Arenson recalls the woman saying.

Arenson said the Malawian woman then introduced herself in English and thanked the volunteers for enabling her to get an education.

During a visit to a completed buildOn school in Jimbe, Malawi, the women met a group of children from the village and asked them about their dream careers. The children replied with aspirations similar to those of the trip-goers, such as becoming doctors or lawyers. 

“We showed this community what life would be like to give women an education,” Arenson said. “They have the same dreams as us, and we have the opportunity to follow those dreams through education. So they got to see people living out what they want to do, and so they inspired them to pursue their education as well.”

The trip-goers stayed with host families in Nkoka. Through the use of two interpreters from buildOn, the girls were able to interact with their hosts and learn about the lives of the host women and children. 

The trip-goers are already inquiring about the next service trip for Circle of Sisterhood.  Hankins explained how some sorority members have already approached her about taking another trip next year.

“So we definitely have a lot of women that are gung-ho to do another build and go to another place and just continually do it every year,” Hankins said.

Hankins explained that while it is unlikely the girls could fund such a trip every summer, she is hopeful that the Panhellenic Council will organize a service trip every three years in the future and continue the momentum of paying it forward.

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