Yamba Malawi’s mission is to uplift vulnerable children by empowering communities to break the cycle of poverty and invest in their children. Working in some of the poorest communities in the world, we have developed a holistic, nuanced, and child-focused poverty graduation program that combines childhood wellbeing, entrepreneurship, and financial inclusion to ensure children’s immediate and long-term needs are met.
We are proud to say—it’s working. Each year, communities are transforming the lives of over 35,000 children in their care.
Yamba Malawi strives to amplify the stories of our hardworking community partners. We aim to honor their experiences, their transformations, and the universality of what we are all working towards—ensuring all children have the happy, healthy childhoods they deserve. To do so, in 2019, we created Let It Shine to jointly premier at our annual Gala and on Instagram/Facebook for a night of celebration and fundraising that would allow us to grow the impact of our programs. Having met the Sithawika family a few years earlier, we knew we wanted to represent the amazing transformation led by Esther, mother of three, as she fought for her children’s futures. We wanted to highlight the perseverance, the challenges, the successes, and the impact of her commitment as a mother, and to show a journey through time that now has a happy new beginning, not an ending, thanks to her hard work. In doing so, we aim to highlight the transformative power that one person, one action, one donation can have.
During Let It Shine pre-production, we established guidelines that represent our values and commitment to a collaborative and ethical storytelling process, all of which contribute to a unique, ethical film highlighting our impact:
We committed to a collaborative process with the Sithawika family, including multiple meetings, interviews, and scripting to authentically represent their story. This included celebrating wins—such as saving money for the next year’s tuition—as well as not shying away from more challenging times, such as Chimwemwe’s feistiness when she did not get what she wanted (i.e. throwing the bucket). All scenes captured were inspired by the stories the Sithawika told during the interview process.
We committed to not using actors. We utilized a narrative hybrid-documentary approach, but it was critical the family represented themselves the final product.
We committed to flexibility. Throughout the process, we actively sought the Sithawikas’ feedback, leading to scripting, rescripting, and rescripting again, often between takes in the village. Instead of approaching directing with a “Do this” mentality, we asked, “How does this happen? Can you show us?” Then, the camera would roll. The result was a reworking of scenes, including the opening (baby swaddling) in a more authentic way.
We committed to bridge building. We aimed to tap into nostalgia, sentimentality, and common experience by utilizing an instantly recognizable song in a new setting, thus emphasizing the shared experiences of childhood/parenthood, no matter where you live.
We committed to highlighting progress and the family’s commitment and determination. Despite limited production flexibility, we focused on scene transitions that parallel camera movements and the progress the Sithawikas have made forward, upwards, and beyond the cycle of poverty they formerly found themselves in.
We committed to representing the multifaceted nature of our work in an approachable way. We wanted to represent our complex programs—the focus on children, business, and financial inclusion, the mentorship process, the technical skills, and the joy and self-empowerment that comes from self-sufficiency and the small wins in life—all in a video with no voiceover and less than 3 minute runtime.
We committed to a shoestring budget. We are incredibly fortunate to have the generous, talented team at Cliff Co. support our work. We are grateful for their patience and passion, and their fearlessness in tackling everything from beehives to thunderstorms as we fought to honor the Sithawika’s hard work. We are thankful for our small and mighty team, who regularly steps out of their comfort zones (and job descriptions) to make this work possible. To keep costs low and to keep productions personal and intimate, there are no more than 4-5 people on site, and each person has multiple roles. To prioritize ethical collaboration, half the team is composed of Malawian nationals.
As a result, Let It Shine presents a well-developed, emotional narrative that honors the amazing Sithawika family and engages with a wide range of audiences. It speaks to universality while celebrating exceptionality, and most of all—it makes people feel.
Let It Shine was incredibly successful in conveying the importance of our work. Immediately after its premier, Esther Sithawika addressed supporters through a short speech at our annual gala. The result was incredible—not only did it reinforce the power of the film, but we raised $1m to support our programmatic expansion into new communities, including a surprise $100,000 gift from a donor who explicitly shared he was moved by the film. Since then, multiple nonprofits have asked Yamba Malawi for advice and support in their own storytelling processes, and we have received recognition for our uniquely dignifying and collaborative approach.
Most importantly, however, in the months after the premier, our team was able to return to the entire Sithawika family to share the finalized version of the film. The experience was incredible—the pride the family showed radiated throughout the room, and all of our hard work was validated by their emotional response. Esther said, “Thank you, this film reminds me of holding Chimwemwe as a baby. It feels like I am watching my life all over again.” as she pretended to be holding her baby once again. As they shared with family and friends, it was clear that we were successful in building bridges through this approach to storytelling, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to highlight the story of such a special family.
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