VoiceFlame’s founder, Mary Tuchscherer had never heard of Malawi, Africa before she met Malawi native, Masankho Banda. When Mary participated in an African dance class in 1998, led by Masankho, the two became fast friends and colleagues. In 2007 when Masankho invited her to spend the holidays at his family home in Tukombo Village on Lake Malawi, she seized the moment and responded with an unequivocal, “Yes!”
Mary traveled with an open heart, looking forward to the experience of a different culture and a fresh landscape. Upon landing in Lilongwe, the capital city, she felt the warm welcome of the friendliest smiles she had ever seen. Surrounded by the pink glow of the bougainvillea bushes, any fears she had melted away under the warmth of the African sun. She felt at home.
Masankho wasted no time in introducing the small group of North American women to a gathering of his female family and friends. Together, they sat in a circle and began a conversation that quickly led to the sharing of their favorite books. What they discovered seemed shocking. Without exception, regardless of the 10,000 miles that separated them, they had all recently read the book, Eat, Pray, Love, a bestseller at the time.
Soon, they were talking about the power of women’s stories to heal and to act as an inspiration in their lives. Eager to hear more stories about the lives of women in Malawi, Mary asked for recommendations of books to read, written by females in Malawi. Silence shrouded the room as the women glanced from one to the other, searching for an answer to give their eager listener. Finally, Mary heard the three words that ultimately broke her heart. “There are none.”
As Mary continued to sit with women in Malawi and listen to their stories she felt the stirrings that would become a burning passion for creating a space for women and girls to illuminate their voices through the art of writing. As one who understood the pain of being silenced, she wanted to be of service to others who might not otherwise have an opportunity to write and speak their truth.
Since then VoiceFlame has led five cross-cultural journeys to Malawi, written with over a thousand women and girls, initiated a successful writing program in secondary schools, as well as a yearly writer’s camp for adolescent girls, and published an anthology of women’s voices with the second one in progress.
As Mary supports the girls in Malawi to explore and celebrate their voices, she remembers and celebrates her own previously silenced voice.