How a writer learned to help Malawi’s girls help themselves


Putting a human face on some cold poverty data started our writer on a nearly two-decade quest to understand how help, given thoughtfully, can be transformative and lasting. It starts with humility: knowing what you don’t know.

A data point can often seem impersonal. But get to know the people behind it, and the picture changes entirely.

Writer Xanthe Scharff discovered that through a story that took root almost two decades ago. In 2005, Xanthe profiled a Malawian family to help readers understand what it meant to live on $1 a day – in extreme poverty. Readers’ connection and compassion were immediate – as were donations that helped Xanthe found the nonprofit Advancing Girls’ Education in Africa (AGE Africa).

On a recent return trip for another story, she reflected on the initial story’s many lessons – including the power of listening.

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