An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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One of the hardest things in life is reaching the decision you want to change the world. To do something good. To make a positive difference. Then comes something harder, actually doing it. First is the realizing, “Yeah, I should do something!” Then comes, “Wait…what can I do???” Well if you ever want to jump right in, just get to the source and start right away, I’ve found the place for you… actually the continent for you.

Whether reality or something stirred from Hollywood hype or awareness concerts, no place seemed to have more need than Africa. An entire continent fighting things like HIV/AIDS, malaria, starvation, poverty. Turns out there’s some truth to that inkling. Different areas of course plagued with different problems. It may take a moment to get past the beautiful smiles, but it won’t take long before you find those smiles are covering a life of need. Malawi I learned was something like the third or fourth most impoverished country in the world. Right behind Haiti. Depressing, huh?

Until you get to a little village and hear for the first time a mob of children yell “Mazungu (Swahili for white person)!!!” and run full speed to greet you. To slap a high five. Or to just take hold and not let go. That’s the kind of “warm fuzzy” you can find only in the ink fairytales, or laced in the fibers of your special blankie. It doesn’t matter how dark or depressed your mood, you can’t help but smile as the warmth of your heart raises the corners of your mouth.

We began our morning on a small minivan used for public transit. This is where I met David Leflar. He’s easy to find. Not only is there the obvious ethnic difference, he’s also about 6’3”, wearing overalls and a red ball cap that reads “Ugly Bass Player” on the back. He’s somewhere in his late 20’s (I’m guessing) and after finishing college at a small university somewhere in Tennessee, David and a couple other friend decided they wanted to make a difference. So they did. They shared a vision on importance of early childhood development and started a group called boNGO Worldwide.

We were on our way to visit one of their projects. A preschool in a little village in which the teachers and workers almost entirely come from within the community. After getting off the strong smelling trasport, we walked the dirt road among maize (African corn) fields until we reached the preschool. And then it happened. We turned the corner and about 30 kids started screaming “Mazungu! Mazungu!” .The teachers held them at bay until they could stand still and then like a gunshot at a racetrack, the kids fired towards us. Mandi stayed to keep the kids company, David showed me around.

There were two classrooms painted colorfully with the alphabet and numbers, one kitchen, bathroom (or outhouse with a hole in the ground), living quarters turned storage and a few crops planted in the back of the property. David only recently moved out of the community. When he arrived he lived at the school as he helped build and organize everything. He didn’t speak the language but learned. And now this preschool is educating kids from 12 different neighboring villages.

boNGO Worldwide has since set up 14 schools and community based childcare centers, trained teachers, and is working hard to do more. It’s an inspirational story of one guy who had a vision to make a difference in the world. He joined some friends, moved to an area of need, and has helped communities educate their youth with their people. What’s interesting is maybe for the first real time I noticed there were less boundaries. Less divide. It wasn’t the white guy and the villagers, it was friends and people concerned for the children. It was as I said, inspiring.

I went back to hang out with the kids. All children I am learning are fascinated with cameras, these were especially. At first they would star emotionlessly at me as I took a picture. Then as I turned the camera and revealed portraits of them in the viewfinder, a wave of excitement would wash over them. I’d click, turn and show. They’d look, realize and scream. I mean kind of screams you’d hear somewhere on the shores of Never Neverland with Peter Pan and an army of Lost Boys. Pounding with joy and excitement.

Later that day we visited a much more organized and funded orphanage, known as Open Arms ( You may recognize the name as a place Madona recently visited when looking for a child to adopt. It was impressive. Clean. Well thought. They too were doing amazing things to help children. But I have to say there was something magical about the village. About the dirt and the maize fields. About 30 children yelling “Mazungu” and running barefoot to greet you. Something I think I’ll hold on to for some time.


1 david { 06.20.08 at 12:09 pm }

Derek you are the MAN!!! Thank you so much for posting this blog, you absolutely made my day! I’ll be sure to send a link out to all my friends and family… I couldn’t figure out if there is a video podcast from the footage you took that day, please send me a link if so!

Be well, all the best to you from Malawi!


2 Jim Leflar { 06.20.08 at 2:11 pm }

Thanks from David’s father as well, Derek!
Go, Go, bonGo; Make a world of difference.

3 Amy Vaden { 06.21.08 at 3:15 pm }


Everyone is so impressed with your stick-to-itness and the amazing acomplishments youre seeing! We loved seeing you recently and we think of you all the time! Youre wonderful!!

4 Lee & Bill Burdett { 06.21.08 at 6:35 pm }

We love you, David. It was a special treat to see you at the wedding. You are a blessing to all with whom you come in contact. We’re proud to know you and to know you are passing on the goodness which has come your way. Much love – the Burdetts

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