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MALAIKA FOR LIFE is a network of angels who fight malaria – the number 1 killer in Africa – and empower vulnerable communities one bracelet at a time. With every bracelet purchase, we provide lifesaving medication and an income for HIV widows who handcraft each bracelet.

Founder Kristen Kenney, filmmaker Sylvia Caminer and Tanzanian native Venance Ndibalema talk about their trip to Tanzania, Kristen’s fight with malaria and their new DVD, “Tanzania: A Friendship Journey.” Read on for three different perspectives. Follow Malaika For Life on Twitter.

Kris:

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

–African Proverb 

I met my best friend Venance Ndibalema on a soccer field at the University of Miami. Although brought together by a common interest, I knew little about where he came from. He was African, tall, lean and you couldn’t miss his dread locks. I was a petite, blue-eyed, bubbly blonde American girl. Yet somehow, Ven convinced me to join him on his journey back home to Tanzania. It had been ten years since he returned and it was the first time he would bring a white woman to his village. I was working in media when I met Sylvia Caminer, an Emmy award-winning director, who wanted to film the journey. 

I knew little about Africa. The only images I had were of conflict, hate and war. Months later, I could not have prepared myself for what I was about to learn and experience on this journey to the “dark continent.” 

As a traveler, there is a BIG difference between observing and experiencing. From climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro to trekking across the Serengeti and sleeping in Ven’s traditional village, I not only explored his country, but I experienced it. I stayed local. I lived local. I ate local. I danced local. I took the local bus. I spoke the local language. I slept in the village. I worked on the farm. I fetched water. And I got malaria. 

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Malaria is something I didn’t know much about as a naive traveler. Malaria is a disease that kills almost 3,000 children a day in that part of Africa. Without the proper medicine, within a certain time frame, it will kill you. 

My experience with malaria was real and raw – summed up by a 6-hour bus ride, four days on an IV, and hospitalized in a foreign facility with minimal equipment. I remember the doubt that started to pour in as I waited hours for the lifesaving medicine that costs less than $10. 

This trauma left me with an unforgettable impression about the lack of resources available to those who can’t afford the medicine and inspired me to GO MAD (Make A Difference). This journey became the genesis of MALAIKA FOR LIFE.  

MALAIKA means angel in Swahili. One thing I learned on my journey, is that anyone can make a difference – even a nobody like me. I am not a celebrity. I have to work just like everyone else to pay my bills and to earn a living and make career for myself. But I have helped provide lifesaving malaria medicine for more than 20,000 Tanzanians! 

MALAIKA FOR LIFE has now teamed up with bigger organizations like Diamond Empowerment Fund. When I met Russell Simmons at a fashion show in Miami, I walked right up to him and showed him the bracelets we sell to raise funds. Two years later, we are creating awareness together.  

This journey Ven and I experienced in Tanzania is now brought to the forefront for everyone to take part in, as our film “TANZANIA: A Friendship Journey” hits the film festival circuit, starting this week in NYC.  This film brings two vastly different cultures together and can inspire anyone to GO MAD like I did! 

To purchase a DVD of TANZANIA: A Friendship Journey or to further support the film click here.

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Ven:

I have come to the realization that we all inhabit our own home-made universe. Made up of upbringing, temperament and opportunities and the slightest change to any of these takes us to another altered universe. As I journeyed across my homeland retracing the steps of my youth I was indeed experiencing it from this altered universe. Living in the west had shifted my opportunity and therefore altered my temperament and upbringing. One of the most striking examples was when I met up with old friends, I felt very aware of the surroundings and the difficulties one enciountered living here to the point where it felt more like second hand knowledge rather than something I went through myself. So this understanding and shift in our outlook can truly transform ones entire being. Had I not come to the west I would still be trapped in my original universe. 

To purchase a DVD of TANZANIA: A Friendship Journey or to further support the film click here.

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Sylvia:

One of the great challenges in life is to allow time to stop within yourself in order to fully comprehend and experience a life changing situation. As I prepared myself for this journey to Africa I hoped I would be ready for such a situation if one presented itself … 

The greatest impact of the entire trip came in the cover of night in the tiny village of Nkwenda. This was a rare moment when the chaos of filming had ended for the day and I found myself alone. I literally stumbled into a four-year-old, orphan, Anita who seemed wearied decades beyond her years. Time seemed not only to slow but to actually stop as this little child reached out to me in such a quiet way. Had I not been aware of the moment I surely would have missed her. There was no way to communicate through language with Anita or her grandmother so we were forced to dig deeper and experience one another in a very human and personal way. I noticed some troubling open wounds on her head which appeared to be infected. As we parted for the night I made a commitment to myself to find her again and see if I could offer some assistance. 

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The following morning we found Anita and it was then that we learned both of her parents had been lost to HIV. Her life literally seemed to hang in the balance and I firmly believe that we as a team were meant to meet her and pick her up when she most needed it. As outsiders we could see how desperately in need of care she was and to us it seemed that the villagers had already assumed she was a casualty of the horrors that HIV had inflicted on the continent. Our initial response was to jump into action and force ourselves into the situation. The valuable lesson we learned that day was that one must not assert his or her  cultural attitudes with force. We needed to balance our call for action with the sensitivity of the situation. HIV is taboo in this culture and if we rushed her towards testing it could lead to increased suffering as she might become an outcast if she tested positive. We did manage with the help of the locals to indeed bring her to a hospital with her grandmother and get her the needed care she required. The results of which are shown in detail in the documentary.

To purchase a DVD of TANZANIA: A Friendship Journey or to further support the film click here.

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Kristen Kenney visits Tanzania in her quest to treat malaria.

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Kristen Kenney visits Tanzania in her quest to treat malaria.

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