Project Africa: Mission Madzi Apidza, Building for literacy

Project Africa: Mission Madzi Apidza, Building for literacy

KPMG in the Community By Mafipe M. Chunga, KPMG Project Africa Envoy

On 19 August I travelled to Madzi Apidza village, Malawi as a Project Africa envoy to witness and participate in the construction of a school financed by staff and Partners from our US practice.  Malawi is a southeastern African country bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia.  A fifth of its total surface area is covered by its share of lake Malawi, one of the world’s largest and most ecologically diverse water bodies. Densely populated and lacking the mineral endowment of some of its neighbours, Malawi is listed as being among the 10 poorest countries in Africa with GDP of just $3.075bn in 2013.

I was picked up from the airport in Blantyre by Express Moyo, a Senior Manager in the Malawian practice.  It was about 3pm and we drove 100km to the town of Mwanza and then inched forward for a further 20km over a tough dirt road with up to 45 degree gradients.

We had been driving for about 30 minutes on the dirt road, it was pitch dark and there were no signs of human habitation.  Express and I were sure we were completely lost until we came over a hill and found ourselves in a village, looking at two 4x4s parked beside a small dwelling, we had arrived in Madzi Apidza.

We were met by Justice and Alinafie, representatives of Buildon, the NGO supervising the construction.

They offered to carry our heavier luggage and though we politely declined, we regretted that decision about 15 minutes later when we discovered that it was a 1km uphill hike from where we left the cars to our final destination.  Completely exhausted and out of breath, we made it to our home for the night, a three roomed house with a solar panel that powered a single light bulb and a small radio.  We met KPMG team members Larry Manguinao and Buildon Trek Coordinator Marc Seidel.

Marc who travels extensively building schools across four continents gave us a background to Buildon and their approach to development.  He explained that is was founded by Jim Ziolkowski who was hiking in the Himalayas when he came across a celebration to mark the opening of a school in rural Nepal.  He was moved by the hope that a simple building gave an entire community and three years later left a promising position at General Electric to found Buildon, an NGO focused on the construction of schools in rural communities.  The first school that he constructed was in Misomali village in Malawi in 1993 and they have gone on to build more than 100 in the country.

The operating model is simple, they partner with the Ministry of Education to identify underserved communities, meet with their leaders and agree terms of a covenant in which the community agrees to provide unskilled labour and guarantee equal access to boys and girls in exchange for skilled labour and building materials.

After supper we had an early night and were up before 6am the following morning.  We met the KPMG lead Janel Riley and the rest of the team over breakfast and headed to the building site.  What was a quiet village half an hour earlier was now a hive of activity with the entire community split into five teams, water, crushed stones, mixing, bricks and actual builders.

The water team was transporting buckets from the hand pump to the building site, another group were crushing stones by hand, four people were busy mixing concrete and a larger team were moving thousands of bricks into position for the actual building works.

The KPMG team members rotated through the different stations and that’s when I had a chance to speak to each of them.  Janel Riley is an Audit Partner assigned to General Electric (GE) Corporate.  She’s been with KPMG for the last 13 years primarily focusing on audits of industrial and technology companies.  She has travelled extensively across the Americas, Europe and Asia however this was her first trip to Africa.  Her goal in coming to Malawi was to be a part of a “real and sustainable contribution to a rural community.”

She explained that Bill O’Mara, the global lead partner on the GE account and her office Managing Partner, Ken J Seel strongly support CSR activities and exploring new ways to give back to our community.   Buildon emerged as an attractive option because of the support that it receives from GE, its focus on education and its sustainability founded in the involvement of local communities.

During an annual Buildon fundraising event, the GE engagement team committed to funding the construction of a school and also the idea of a trek team to actually visit the construction site and participate in building the school.  Working closely with Bill and Ken, Janel helped execute the fundraising drive and put together the trek team.  The outpouring of financial and other support from KPMG Partners and staff towards the project was overwhelming.

She was joined on the trek by her husband Ryan, an avid outdoorsman and former infantry solider who travels as many as 120 000km a year.   The KPMG team also included Cathryn Van Namen, Tiffany Girten, Larry Manguinao, Michelle Therese Crevier all from the US practice and Express Moyo from the Malawian practice.

At the end of the day, the community, with the support of KPMG and Buildon had just laid a foundation for a school however the joy and optimism that it gave them was inspiring, rewarding and a reminder of one of our KPMG values, “we are committed to our communities.”

David Okwara

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