Amazing Race Goes to Malawi |

Guess where this week's episode of "The Amazing Race" took place?

Yep...MALAWI!  I am pretty excited about this for a number of reasons:

  1. Watching footage of Malawi and the people just makes me smile
  2. They visited the main market in Old Town and even went to the fabric section to work with the tailors.  This is where I buy the fabric for Dsenyo's products!
  3. Tourism plays a key role for countries as they develop.  Because Malawi is a land-locked country and is a bit off the beaten path, their tourism industry is pretty tiny.  Any exposure, like this show, is great for Malawi!  
Episode 6: Watch now Episode 7: Watch now (also in Malawi!)

Mwayiwathu Means Blessings for Women in Domasi |

Mwayiwathu simply means "blessings" in Chiyao, the language of the Yao people in Malawi.  This is the name that the HIV support group in Ndiwasa Village near Domasi (map) chose for their group when they started working for Dsenyo.  

HIV Positive Living Groups are quite numerous in Malawi because of the high HIV infection rate.  The purpose of these groups is to provide a safe place for people to share their struggles, council each other and encourage others in the community to live openly with the disease.  There is still a huge stigma associated with HIV, which is evident especially among men.  The majority of these groups are comprised by women, many of whom are widowed, and only decided to get tested for HIV after seeing their husbands die too young and suspecting AIDS was the cause.

Mwayiwathu is a group of 20+ women who chose this name for their group because they see the work from Dsenyo as a blessing and a solution to some of the challenges they face.  They use their wages to pay for transport to the hospital to get their ARVs (anti-retro virals), buy food, pay school fees for their children and purchase fertilizer for growing crops. 

On our recent trip to Malawi this August we interviewed each member of the group asking, "Has your quality of life improved through working with Dsenyo?"  Esinara Kwalamasa (photo left) said that it really has because she has learned new skills, she enjoys working together with the other women sharing her problems and ideas with them.  She also said that now she has money to cover basic necessities like food and soap which were a struggle before.

The Mwayiwathu HIV Support Group makes the following items for Dsenyo...everything is hand-stitched, no machines: Flowers (hair clips, ornaments, magnets, etc) and Little Friends (lion, monkey, elephant, bunny stuffed animals).

Click here to share this fair trade story...

Monkey What? |

By, Spencer Gale, guest blogger, who is interned with Dsenyo summer 2011.

Monkey Orange. It’s a small fruit that grows on trees up to 5m in central Africa. A mature tree typically produces about 400 pieces of fruit each year, which can be eaten (though they have a certain gelatinous quality that may resemble brains…ewww). The seeds are poisonous but have medicinal properties, while the fruit itself has high nutritional value.

When produced in excess the Monkey Oranges can be turned into beautiful décor globes such as the ones Chifundo Artisans Network and Mwayiwathu HIV Support Group produce in Malawi for Dsenyo. They remove the skin, then hollow out the Monkey Oranges, leaving a think, hard shell. After drying out entirely the Monkey Oranges are hand-painted and varnished to create the beautiful Monkey Orange décor globes and ornaments brought right from one tree to your tree!

Tigwirani Manja, Makers for Dsenyo |

Meet Elizabeth Chikoya. After seven years working in Malawi, Elizabeth still remains one of the most amazing and inspirational Malawian women I know. I met Elizabeth through a mutual artist friend who knew I was looking for creative people that also wanted to help empower women in the country. Elizabeth is a woman in her early fifties, her children are grown with families of their own and her husband is a health worker. She lives in Lilongwe, Malawi's capital city, in an outlying neighborhood "village" accessible by narrow, twisting dirt roads. Her and her husband are fortunate: he has a good job, they are both educated, they have even travelled abroad. Elizabeth is also very fortunate because her husband supports her 100%. So, when Elizabeth approached him several years ago and said, "honey, I want to help women in our community that have less." He responded with encouragement and even gave her part of their land to dedicate to her activities.

Elizabeth started the Women's Training Empowerment Center where she has been training the poorest of the poor in her community in skills like tailoring, mushroom farming, piggery and other entrepreneurial endeavors. In early 2011 a group of women in a neighboring village caught wind of what was going on at Elizabeth's house. They were a group of HIV-positive women, part of a support group formed by the local medical clinic for women living with the disease. You see, these women (34 of them in all) have taken a bold step in coming out and living publicly as HIV+. Like most in their community, making ends meet and finding a source of income is challenging. When you couple that with social stigma, low education, little to no marketable skills, frequent visits to the hospital for medicines, lower energy levels,'s even harder. So, they came to Elizabeth begging her for help to teach them skills, how to start businesses and ultimately how to generate an income to support their families.

I am so glad Tigwerani Manja found Elizabeth because Dsenyo gets to work with them too! This spring during my March trip to Malawi, I spent time with 14 of the ladies who are completing a sewing certificate program. We developed some new designs that they are now making for Dsenyo. One of these is our fun wrap skirt. It's knee length and fits sizes 0 - 10. The ribbon is nice and long so you can tie it in a big bow or wrap it around twice and knot it like a sash. They are 100% cotton and washer/dryer friendly!

I'm happy to say that this group is now busy with work from Dsenyo and continuing their training program. They also happen to be the absolute most joyous group that Dsenyo works with. When training and working on orders they often (as in every 20 min or so) break into song and dance. Here's a little video for you to get a taste of what it's like to be in their midst. When I asked why they were singing and dancing they said, "We are happy that you are here, but even when you aren't, we are still always singing and dancing. We don't want to think about our problems. We want to be happy."


Dsenyo… meet Dzaleka |

By, Spencer Gale, guest blogger, who is interning with Dsenyo this summer.

Refugee camps have become much more prevalent over the past decade in Africa. With political, social, and economic turmoil in the surrounding countries, Dzaleka Camp in Malawi is home to more than 10,000 refugees from more than 12 countries. Capacity is 4,000. The UNHCR operates the camp which is a "temporary" home for refugees and asylum seekers from countries like Rawanda, Burundi, Congo and Kenya. Constricted by local Malawian laws, it is nearly impossible for refugees to work outside the camp (refugees are not permitted to do business outside of the camp or own cars). While Dzaleka Refugee Camp is seen as a temporary home, the average stay for both refugees and asylum seekers is roughly five years - five years with little to no employment or advancement opportunities. However, with 10,000 refugees there is a wealth of skilled craftspeople and artisans coming from Rawanda, Burundi, Congo and more; there is potentially a huge opportunity for these people to share their valued skills. In the coming months Dsenyo hopes to learn more about Dzaleka Refugee Camp through a visit to see what the future may hold!

Malawi Trip Report: Welcome Back! |

Marissa spent three weeks in Malawi this March, 2011 working with Dsenyo's producer groups on new designs.  She is posting a series of "Trip Reports" here on her blog to give you an inside look at her travels.

Here are some of my favorite Malawian names:

  • Smile
  • Innocent
  • Nice
  • Loveness
  • Comfort

It's really hard not to enjoy the people here.  Names like these just automatically put a smile on your face, plus when they are coupled with such hospitality and great attitudes I feel so welcome.  I really love this country and it's people.  It is a second home which I am reminded of each time I visit our group at Ndiwasa Village where they welcome me to the house I stay at and say this is your home, you are our daughter, welcome back!

Meet Our Producers: Interview with Violet |

On my last trip to Malawi Tamara helped me start conducting a series of interviews with our producers.  So much of what Dsenyo does is about people.  We see ourselves as a bridge helping connect Malawian women and artisans with caring people here in the USA.  I hope these interviews help give you a little sliver of insight into the lives of the people that make Dsenyo products!

Group: MicroVentures Kasungu
Name: Violet Chinangwa
Age: 24
Tribe: Lomwe Tribe
Number of children: 1
Number of orphans you are caring for:
How do Dsenyo orders help you:
It helps give a hand to my husband to solve our problems that seem so small but are big problems for our family.
What are you hoping to improve in the future?
Improve with my quality with products and to open my own shop in future.
How has tailoring helped you?
It helps me have an income to fill all my needs.


Chichewa Lesson #3: Gramatical Structure |

Word of the day

Tathakoza = Thank You
literally translates = We are (Ta) grateful (Tahkoza)
Pronounced = ta-t-ha-koh-zaa


ku = I/me
mu = in
pa = on

Personal Pronouns

Ine = I/me
Iwe = you (informal)
Inu = you (formal)
Iye = he/she
Ife = we/us
Iwo = they

Subject Pronouns

ndi = I
mu = you
a = he/she/they
ti = we

Tense Infixes

ku = present
na = past
dza = future
ma = always
a = immediate past

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind |

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and HopeThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am in Malawi right now and was pleased to stumble upon a copy of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” at a friend’s house where I was staying in Lilongwe. I hadn't met William Kamkwamba, author of the book, yet, but did know that he had help writing his story. Before reading the book I was a bit concerned that his voice might not come through strongly and that it would be written in the polished English of a native speaker. As I began reading, I quickly started enjoying the sound of William's very Malawian voice coming through clearly. I enjoyed endearing English phrases you hear only in Malawi and the Chichewa words inserted throughout the text.

This is a story of resourcefullnes and ingenuity in the most desperate of circumstances. Malawi is indeed a poor country, but the story that doesn't get told often enough is how rich it is as well. There are many youth like William in Malawi who are bright, talented and creative. Unfortunately, more often than not, they don't have the opporutnity to realize their full potential. I am thrilled that William's story is being shared with the world and that he now finds himself with opportunities that will enable him to fulfill his dreams. My hope is that more of his counterparts will also find ways to see their own hopes become a reality.

View all my reviews >>

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Dsenyo (dee-SEN-yo) is giving a hand UP to women and artisans working their way out of poverty. Contemporary handbags, accessories and home decor celebrating African Textile design.

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About Dsenyo

Dsenyo is a social enterprise.  We believe business is a powerful way to address social and economic problems. Countless challenges confront creative people in Malawi, Africa as they try to build their businesses, practice their craft & support their families. 

After living in Malawi, artist Marissa Perry Saints founded Dsenyo to create opportunity for hard-working, African women and artisans.  Dsenyo offers hand-crafted bags and accessories that celebrate African textile design.  We follow Fair Trade principles working to create maximum benefit for the women, artisans & communities in which we work.



Ellen - Bradford, MA

Ellen - Bradford, MA

I just received my first order (hobo bag, 2 belts, globe ornaments & flower ornament). Loved everything! Beautiful craftsmanship for a wonderful cause!

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