Just last week, Melinda Gates challenged the world to start doing a better job supporting grassroots women’s movements in her article  “It’s Time for a New Era” (Jan 4, 2018), when she proclaimed ” You may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from the bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world.” Media Melinga is one of these “under the radar” exceptions.

When Media lost her husband to HIV, and subsequently discovered that she was also infected, rather than crawling into a hole and feeling sorry for herself (like I probably would have done), she determined to leave a legacy for her children. Up until this point, there had been no school in her per-urban community of Makululu, Zambia. For their education, the children simply met under a tree and were taught to read by a community elder who etched letters with a stick in the sand. The Zambian government does not initiate the building of schools; it is left to communities to collaborate with NGO’s, and in order to convince a local NGO to build a school, the forming of a school board is required. Media determined that her school board was not going to be a board made up of just any trustees; her school board would be made of other HIV infected widows like herself. She was determined to not only leave her own legacy, but to empower other single mothers to leave legacies for their children as well—it was their inheritance.

In 2004, Media’s vision was realized; Bwafwno School was built with the help of a group of Canadians from Calgary, Alberta. Not only was the two-room cinder block school erected, but a latrine and a deep-water borehole installed. That meant that Media and her resilient board not only brought education to the children of Makululu, but also sanitation and clean water to their entire community! Moreover, once a proper school had been built, along with sanitation and water, the government of Zambia stepped up and sent qualified teachers. Sadly, Media succumbed to her illness in 2007, but nevertheless, her legacy lives on.

As a single mom myself, Media is an inspiration to me. I mean there are always the financial challenges, especially during back to school time. But there are also those days when your university student comes home and you find the entire contents of their dorm room dumped all over your living room floor, and couch, and hallway,…or you come home from working all day and bussing everyone around from practice to practice and find the kitchen cluttered with dishes leaving you with hours of work still ahead (that’s if you want to avoid hours of fighting), rather than that warm bath you were so looking forward to. When I get frustrated, Media’s story keeps me grounded. More than that, it inspires me to go above and beyond, even if that means simply running an event to help spread the word and get some of these children in Zambia to school.

Today there are 1.2 million orphans in Zambia. 800,000 have lost their parents due to HIV & AIDS. That’s more than the entire population of Hamilton, Burlington, and Stoney Creek combined! Stop! Close your eyes. Now, actually take the time to visualize every person living in Stoney Creek, Burlington, and Hamilton all being orphans—honestly, that is absolutely insane!

Though, in Zambia, primary education is free, unless children have the required school supplies and uniforms they are unable to attend. Amazingly, the cost of supplying these required items is just $25 for an entire year! Like, come on! That’s less than it costs me to treat my kids to Marble Slab!

Thankfully, improv groups Scared Scriptless , from Niagara, and The Dandies, from Toronto, have graciously teamed up, along with musical performer Jesse Wray, to help WOW (Working for Orphans and Widows) put together a night of laughter and fun February 24th at 7pm at Mills Hardware (95 King Street Hamilton). The event promises to be a Mission: Improvable— their goal being to send 100 of these orphans and vulnerable children to school in Zambia and Uganda and change their lives forever, orphans like Media’s children.

WOW is a faith based Canadian NGO which partners with local leaders in Malawi, Zambia, and Uganda, helping widows and orphans affected by HIV&AIDS access education, medical care, gender based violence counselling, and facilitating business start-ups and vocational training.

The ticket cost of $25 not only promises to help ensure that an orphan or vulnerable child, like Media’s children, are able to attend school for a full year, it also helps fuel the local economy, as the school supplies are purchased locally in Zambian shops, and the uniforms are sewn by local widows who have started their own tailoring business. Let’s help Media’s legacy live on and send 100 kids to school through this event!

The event is being co-organized by the incredibly talented and hilariously charismatic Ryan Fleming, host of the pod cast RATG.