Vivre Co Australia is educating girls in Malawi

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Educating Girls in Malawi

This is a transcript of the podcast interview. Listen to the episode here.

PREMA: This story is about how an Australian woman is providing education to girls in one of the poorest countries. There are many barriers that prevent children from accessing education. Besides funding untrained teachers, there is another barrier. If the child is of the wrong gender, if the child is a girl. This is due to long held cultural perceptions of the role of girls and women in these societies. India is one of these societies. I am a Singaporean Indian woman born to Indian migrant parents. I am the first woman in my mother's side of the family to graduate from university. I'm in no way smarter or more driven. They are remarkable women. Insightful, sharp, multilingual. It's just that they were only ever seen as wives and mothers.

PREMA: Nina Sackprasith from Brisbane, Australia, is changing the lives of girls and young women who live over 10000 kilometres away from her through her home grown business Vivre Co Australia.

NINA: I provide eyelash extension services or beauty services to women in the Brisbane community. And with each service provided, I fund the education of girls living in poverty in Malawi, Africa.

PREMA: Nina's story demonstrates how easy it is in our digital reality for anyone to help communities in another part of the world. The barriers to helping seem to be diminishing. Nina's desire to help started when she was very young because of her family and community in Australia.

NINA: There's actually a very strong Lao community, alot of my friends growing up and their parents as well, were all migrants. It was very common to understand the whole customs and traditions and cultures of Laos as well. Everyone takes care of each other. They are very community focused.

PREMA: Nina's father arrived in Australia as a refugee from Laos in 1979. He soon set up a community centre to help people from his own community and other communities, too. Her father has had a huge impact on Nina's outlook.

NINA: As a child. I went to Laos and one evening I saw my dad feed a little boy. And then for the rest of the evening, the little boy was following my father. That experience specifically, that was probably the one defining moment in my life which led me to care about children and about those experiencing poverty, because I'm very passionate about the cause of helping peopel. So I grew up in Ipswich. I was born there and I went to a normal public school. And then I went to uni in Brisbane, went to QUT to do business. And I wasn't actually interested in my studies at all because I had no purpose attached to it until very last year when I started joining different uni societies. They encourage you to become more worldy and to take on new opportunities. And after that, that's when I realized I could use business to actually help people after university.

PREMA: Nina was unemployed for a while and struggled with money, so she lived at home with her parents. A business that would pay forward to help people still stuck in her mind. But she didn't know what business to start.

NINA: I could not stick to one single idea, and I wasn't motivated to just set up. My friends they actually own a beauty service. I kind of had an understanding and the course only takes a day or two. Any industry or the market is huge. I was like, why don't I enter into this space? I can set up easily like a real week or a month and I can just grab my clientele and I can make enough money from it to give back.

PREMA: Nina knew she wanted to work towards women's empowerment and was focused on girls education. This was yet another social issue She understood due to her family exposure,.

NINA: Because I have seen the issues that they face even from where my mum was from too. By the age of 25, women are encouraged to get married instead of pursuing careers. And it's just a social structures and it's a bit unfair. In developing nations, if families can't afford the children to go to school, they'll most definitely always put the boy forward first by putting them into education gives them an equal chance to put a potential and to, I guess, make a contribution to the community.

PREMA: Nina knew how and where she could help. All that was left was to find a beneficiary organisation.

NINA: I was involved in a social enterprise startup community group. I posted a question that I was looking for a partnership with somebody who was involved in the education space in the developing community. They referred me on to Emmanuel, who is the Director of Bikema academic centre, which is also a social enterprise. I started talking to him and he sent me all along the research that he had done and a lot of information upon the school. And that has affirmed my partnership with him over the past few months that we've been working together. It's built more trust and all transparency. And in terms of working together, we were great.

PREMA: The total cost of one girl's education in Malawi for a year is about 38 Australian dollars, which is about 26 U.S. dollars. To date, Nina has sponsored the education for 40 girls. Her contributions have possibly altered the cause of these girls' lives, along with those who come after them. This change is profound. It has changed the self-perception and culture of thinking.

NINA: I spoke to Emanuel and I asked have you seen a difference in the scholarship program that we've put them in. His answer was, yes, I have. Especially from the mentorship. Before, the girls just wanted to look for partners. They didn't even think of pursuing careers. Business, they didn't think of that at all. Cause, you know, ingrained in them, that's what they were just told. It's just easier to just find someone to marry or get into an arranged marriage of so much older who's not right for them. But he said that now they've seen that they've felt more compelled within themselves that they can actually achieve more and start living more independent lives.

PREMA: These aren't just expectations faced by the girls in Malawi. Closer to home, Nina has the same problem.

NINA: My mom and I know it's not her fault or anything, but it's ingrained in the culture. Instead of telling me go pursue a career, you know, go live an independent life and make your own money, it was "you need to look like this. Dress like this. Act like this so you can find a husband to look after you". I hate that.

PREMA: This brought us to the topic of whether it was an especially challenging time to be a woman, and this is where I realize something. That the older we get, the more jaded we become. But talking to someone like Nina, who's young, passionate in really just trying to focus on the good she can do is encouraging.

NINA: I think that now it's actually getting better. Well, women are voicing out, Aand have the ability to do that, and people are understanding the inequalities in society and becoming more accepting and aware of it. So I think actually I think it is. There are still challenges, but it is less challenging because people are becoming more understanding and open and aware of what the difficulties that women face.

PREMA: If there's anyone who's aware, it's Nina and she's very focused on what her next steps are.

NINA: I actually want to eventually employ disadvantaged women in Brisbane into the business, maybe refugee or migrant women. And I will. I'm looking to do more creative workshops for women to create a community like those, you know, social community. Like I'm a I'm about make empowering women and making them feel good and do good, you know, and just setting up a space with them. When I can relax and feel comfortable and do it in a workshop where it can meet other women like them and we can make beauty products.

PREMA: Nina credits a lot of her vision and clarity to having a good support network.

NINA: What really helped me is to get as much support as I can and to tell everybody that I meet what I want to do because everybody has a connection. Everybody has an idea. And everybody, one way or another will have some kind of feedback to give. And you can only grow from that. I would not have been able do this with my mentor if I was not in that social setup group who helped me set up with Emmanuel.

PREMA: Finding a good mentor takes time.

NINA: Looking for a mentor. I think research as well. Ask people and then obviously see the work that they've done. See the connections that they have as well and the network and feedback from people who've worked on the them. And also just where we have a connection with them is very, very important. My mentor was always there to answer my questions and he always put in more effort than I ever expected. So you see what they like as a person. And if they match what you value, what you want to do, and if they just match your energy,.

PREMA: Nina knows where she's headed. And a lot of it comes from her very practical approach to the world.

NINA: We get so consumed by thoughts of our fears and anxieties with the what ifs that it inhibits us from actually doing anything. And for me, it's just do one small step at a time and do it everyday.

PREMA: After listening to Nina talk about her vision and how she started her journey grieving, it started her journey to achieving it. I feel like no one has an excuse in an ideal world. Most of us have the tools to get something small but significant started. Are you ready to take your first step? Thank you for listening.

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