Every year, Sarah Brook, of Lytham, leaves her luxury, downtown apartment in Dubai to live in a mud hut in Malawi.
Following a three-month volunteer project during her gap year, Sarah, 25, who is now a senior account manager with a PR company in Dubai, was inspired to raise over £30,000 to set up and run Sparkle Malawi orphanage and school.
She organised charity auctions, 24-hour sponsored cycle rides, and other events over three years and also used donations instead of gifts for her 21st birthday.
Sarah says: “The contrast between the lifestyle in Malawi and Dubai is like black and white.
“Malawi life means walking for water, mud huts, limited toilet facilities and electricity, no fancy foods, no sense of time, little or no transport in the
rural areas, dirt everywhere, people dressed in old dirty clothes, children playing with rubber tyre parts and pieces of plastic wrappers.
“Teenagers drive very expensive cars and the lifestyle out here for locals and expats is like no other due to the amount of money people are able to earn. Most families have a live in maid, a driver and a gardener and some even a cook. There are tower blocks which are encrusted with Swarovski crystals and hotels which have 100% gold toilet seats. The money here is ridiculous, but like many other western countries what upsets me the most is the amount of waste. What we all throw away could save millions of lives in Africa.”
“I’m just one person trying to do my bit. If everyone did something, much better the world would be.”
After she raised the money, Sarah spent six weeks in Malawi to oversee the building of the orphanage, where children now receive up to six lessons and two meals a day.
Children of 12-plus who have HIV, get education and somewhere to sleep.
Sarah, whose mum and dad, Janet and Martin, live in Lytham, and has two brothers, Matt and Chris, explains: “Running costs are around £300 per month.
“Eleven staff teach 100 kids.
“I depend on my salary and donations. AKS and my former boarding school, Felsted, are now on board, but I’m desperately appealing for more support, and also for volunteers.
“I’ve helped a 21-year-old mother and her six month-old baby, both HIV positive. The mother had been abused by her husband and ran away to find her parents in a village five hours away. Both her parents had died, and she was turned away by other villagers.
“I found her through Social Welfare. She had slept on a floor for two days without food. I prepared a pack of clothes, toys, medications for her and the baby.
“I made her some food, yoghurt for the baby and gave her enough money to get transport back to a village where her siblings were based, plus some extra cash to set up a small business.
“There have been some scary times. When I first went to volunteer in a Malawi orphanage during my gap year, I lived in a shanty town and, being unused to the local food, developed serious bowel complications, and had to have emergency surgery.
“Two years later, my mum, Janet, came out with me to Malawi for three weeks.
“We came across a group of street orphans and three years ago I set up Sparkle Malawi to try to raise some money to build a place they could call home.
“I know I’m never going to change the world and stop the poor from suffering but if you can make a small difference to just a few people’s lives, then something is better than nothing.
“Living in Dubai isn’t the real world.
“The contrast between this way of life and living in a mud hut with no running water, no toilet and no bed is eye-opening.
“I’ve visited schools and universities in the UK, sharing my story and encouraging students to get involved, and plan to talk to students at AKS.
“I returned from my fourth visit to Malawi in November, when I refreshed the orphanage, employed more staff, and adjusted some internal structures.
“I’m now want to register the charity in the UK. When people donate, I try to provide a photo so that they can see what their money achieved.
“If I can just make people appreciate their lives a little bit more, and encourage them to give that bit of change which falls inside their car, or is left in their pocket or handbag, then we could make a serious difference to a few people’s lives.
“The whole goal of Sparkle Malawi is education. If I can help to educate the younger generation they can determine the future of their townships and even their own country.”
Sarah plans to fund-raise during this year before returning to Malawi in November.
To donate or volunteer visit:
Facebook page www.facebook.com/SparkleMalawi2014.