Donald Alversa Memorial Scholarship
Purpose:I wanted to create this student scholarship in honor and in memory of Donald Vincent Alversa II. Don was a young, hard-working commercial fisherman who lost his life at sea. He was well loved and sorely missed by many in Montauk, New York. Those of you who were lucky enough to know Don knew that he had a heart of gold and would give anyone the shirt off his back. Besides extreme generosity, Don had an insatiable appetite for adventure; whether he be off-shore fishing, driving around in his fleet of Chevy's, skateboarding, or just having a good time with his friends. He loved his friends and family, and especially his mom Renee, whom he spoke of frequently and fondly. When I reached out to Facebook friends in Autumn 2015 asking for assistance to sponsor a former Malawian student of mine, Renee was the first to contact me and contribute. This former student of mine had wrote me a letter thanking me for tutoring him and saying he finally passed his exams. Unfortunately, his family did not have the means to support his school fees, nor did I with the costs of graduate school. However, Renee and my Mom saved the day by offering to pay for his education. Because of their kind act, and my love for Donald, I decided to create this memorial scholarship for the sons and daughters of fisherman in Ruarwe, Malawi. I know Ruarwe would have been a place Donald would have loved to visit, but he was there with me in spirit.
UPDATE: My mom, Susan, passed away suddenly on Friday, November 23, 2018. My mommy and Donald were very fond of each other and I am glad they are together now. In lieu of sending flowers my brothers and I ask you to donate to the children of Malawi for this cause. My mom and Donald's mom were the first to donate to help a student in Malawi. My mom also worked in the school district for over 20 years. She was very passionate about education and loved all her students dearly, it would mean a lot to her if you chose to help. Thank you all for your support.
Background:In Spring 2015 I traveled to Malawi to volunteer with Phunzira, the British-based non-profit that helps support the community center Nyumba ya Masambiro (NYM), in Ruarwe, Malawi. Phunzira is a completely non-profit and transparent charity founded by Rosa Nissim. Phunzira has helped NYM build sustainable businesses to support the center, create a nursery, clinic, library, educational and non-educational services, and much more. To learn more about Phunzira and NYM, visit their website (link below) or feel free to contact me personally. While volunteering I lived in Ruarwe and taught primary students in a classroom setting and tutored secondary students in small groups of 2-4 individuals. I also organized non-academic activities with the Youth Leader, such as art classes and swimming lessons.
General Information: Ruarwe is a small fishing village in the Northern District of Malawi. It is located approximately half-way between Nkhata Bay and Chilumba on the coast of Lake Malawi (also known as Lake Nyasa). Ruarwe does not have electricity or direct passage by road. All travel of people and goods must be completed by local boat or ferry which passes the village approximately once a week in each direction. Travel can be difficult, for example, the local boat can take at least ten hours to get to Nkhata Bay. However, Ruarwe does have a primary school and NYM which is crucial to community life. Secondary school students must walk to a neighboring village to attend school.
In Ruarwe fisherman use dug-out canoes, wich can take anywhere from 2-4 years to produce depending on quality. They also hand weave their fishing nets. Like any fishermen's job, catch may be inconsistent which impacts the socioeconomics of the village. Making a livelihood from fishing may also be very dangerous. The canoes are difficult to balance and Lake Malawi conditions may change rapidly which can cause canoes to capsize and lives to be lost. Even though the people of Ruarwe may face many hardships, they are some of the most loving, friendly, and giving people I have ever come across. From my experience in Ruarwe, it is apparent to me why Malawi is often referred to as "the warm heart of Africa."
In general, Malawi is developing country located in southeast Africa. Malawi is geographically quite small in comparison to some of its larger neighbors, including Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Though literacy rates and school attendance has increased in recent years it is still low by western standards. Most students only complete education through the primary school level and dropout rates are higher for girls than boys. However, attendance rates for all children are improving, with enrollment rates for primary schools increased from 58% in 1992 to 75% in 2007, while the number of students who begin in grade one and complete grade five has increased from 64% in 1992 to 86% in 2006. Youth literacy has also increased, moving from 68% in 2000 to 82% in 2007. This increase is primarily attributed to improved learning materials in schools, better infrastructure and feeding programs that have been implemented throughout the school system. But many students still go without education. A major reason why students may not be able to attend school is because they are orphan or vulnerable and their families may not be able to pay school fees. Life expectancy is low for adults and maternal mortality rates still remain high. As a result, many girls stay home to fulfill a mothers' role taking care of the home, and boys may go out to look for jobs.
Who are we helping? The Donald V. Alversa II Memorial Scholarship will support orphaned and vulnerable, male and female students in Ruarwe and the neighboring area. Students will be selected based on good grades, strong work ethic in academia and motivation to succeed, good interpersonal skills, and friendly, outgoing characteristics. The memorial scholarship will be in association with scholarship scheme already in effect with NYM. There are NO administration costs taken for volunteers facilitating these scholarships, we are VOLUNTEERS! :) Erik Grootveld of Denmark has developed the overall scholarship scheme (link below) and I aim to make one large donation in honor of Don! Again, Rosa, Erik, and I are volunteers. Erik has established a Malawi Scholarship bank account in which donations are placed TEMPORARILY until they are DIRECTLY deposited in the schools' bank account in the name of the student to pay for the years school fee. Donors receive proof of deposit and updates on students. The school year starts in September so I would like to raise as much money as possible by early summer so students may be selected. I have one very gifted, former student of mine who has been accepted to a boarding school which will cost approximately $300 for the year. I'd love to raise enough to support her and any other students who need financial assistance!
Depending on currency and exchange rates, the typical cost for a secondary student to attend school for a year is approximately $100. For example, the secondary schools work in trimesters and for Bunga and Kondohwe Secondary Schools which are located near Ruarwe the fees are broken down as such:
14,500 kwacha/trimester = 43,500 k or $70-$80 depending on conversion. In general, the school fees are to maintain and fund the schools infrastructure, staff (teachers pay), and learning environment (textbooks, lab equipment etc).
The remaining finances will go to the individual students supplies, for example, here is what things cost for the student Renee and I sponsored already:
Uniform: trousers 3,000 k, school shirt 2,000 k, shoes 3,000 k (this is typically a one time expense)
Math set (ruler and compass): 500 k
Photocopying reading materials (personal copies of books are limited) 12,000 k
In total, 20,500 kwacha = approximately $30
As I mentioned before, currency may vary. It was approximately 450 kwacha per US dollar in spring 2015. At present (February 18, 2016) it is 754kwacha per dollar but a month ago is was 650 kwacha per dollar. however, I do not know how this will impact the cost of supplies.
THANK YOU!! If you are unable to donate financially, I ask you please to share this cause with friends and family who may be able to. Even the smallest donation may make a difference as you can see from the cost of a math set (less than $1!) so think of how much $5-$10 could help. This is my first time using GoFundMe and trying to make a scholarship fund but I'd love to be able to do this in honor of Don, one of my best friends, every year! Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Once the donations are gathered, and school fees are deposited, I will send out proof of deposits and updates on students in a mailing list (via email) to donors.
I just wanted to provide a student list of the past couple years and upcoming school year. I think we have had a pretty good success rate with students remaining in and completing the program. However, there are a few that have withdrawn due to personal reasons (e.g. wanting to work, support or start a family). Hopefully the time they did spent in the program and attending secondary school will be beneficial to them and maybe they will return in the future when the time is right. That being said, we have had 6 graduates and 4 more graduating this year! (Please check my facebook albums or feel free to email /message me for more details on students :) )
I want to thank everyone who has donated or shared the project. This September marks the 5th anniversary since Donald has been taken from us too soon, but being able to do this memorial scholarship program in honor of him is really special. It brings so much joy and happiness to the students and their families. Thank you everyone for your support, it's greatly appreciated!!!
2015-2016: FIRST YEAR!
Andrew (form 3)
Elliot (form 1) recent photo below
Gertrude (form 1)
Witness (form 2)
Vancy (form 2) recent photo below
Ganazani P. (form 2)
Ganazani N. (form 2)
Alfeyo (form 2)
Joseph (form 2)
Precious (form 3) recent photo below
Felicia (form 4) graduated
Christina (form 4) graduated
Mary (form 4) graduated
Andrew (form 4) graduated
Elliot (form 2)
Nelson (form 2)
Gertrude (form 2)
Ganizani P. (form 3)
Lywell (form 3)
Vancy (form 3)
Ganazani N.(form 3)
Precious (form 4) graduated (ALL-STAR! more on him to come!)
Alexander (form 4) graduated
Joshua (form 1)NEEDS A SPONSOR! ( more on him to come)
Elliot (form 3)
Nelson (form 3)
Ganizani P. (form 4) graduating
Lywell (form 4) graduating
Vancy (form 4) graduating
Ganazani N. (form 4) graduating
My last trip to Malawi was a great success! Went to visit the students who have received scholarship in 5 different schools and they are all doing well. I'll have formal emails to each sponsor on their students with end of the year grades, photos, receipts and even some thank you letters from the kids! Expect emails in June! We have 10 students this year, and I aim to add at least another 5 next year.
I also met with the girls (approximately 44 in DVA's program and the scholarship program we collaborate with) who received reusable sanitary pads from Supreme Malawi. They are loving the products and haven't missed a day of school due to their menstrual cycles! (photos of the product handout in a previous update)
In addition, while living in the village and teaching in the community center again this past trip, I discovered that there was a high amount of primary school students who could not attend school. This is because their families can not afford uniforms which is requirement to attend primary school (even though they don't pay school fees). Therefore, I have used some of the DVA Memorial Scholarship funds to buy uniforms for these kids. I met with the local tailor and worked with the staff at NYM while in Ruarwe and since my return. The tailor, Bea, was kind enough to negotiate a price and give us a discount for uniforms he hand makes. Bea also suffered from Polio as a child and this is his only means of income as he has little use of his legs. But I think the willingness for NYM, Bea, and the community speaks volumes on the villages determination to not just expect donations during these times of hardship, but to really work together to better their community with a little help from us! For example, "small" uniforms are 3,000 Malawian kwacha and "big" uniforms are 4,000 Malawian kwacha. We had 15 "big" students and 12 "small" students. The total would have been 96,000 Malawian kwacha but Bea charged us for all for "small" uniforms, which saved us 15,000 Mk and came to 81,000 Mk. Keep in mind materials cost Bea around 50,000 Mk so this was very generous of him and it proves how much the community wants to succeed with a little assistance from us. But think of it this way, ONE SMALL UNIFORM IS LESS THAN $5!!! So any little bit people can donate really goes a long way in Malawi!! We have been able to send 27 kids to primary school now, but there are 23 MORE KIDS WHO NEED UNIFORMS!!
I know this scholarship program was initially set up to pay for secondary school students school fees, and a lot of the donations are reserved to support the the secondary students remaining school fees, but I think that overall education in the area is of the utmost importance and we don't want to any kids behind!! So any donations would be greatly appreciated.
Lastly, all of the students and their families greatly appreciate how the donors have been able to support them in honor of Donald. They often refer to Don as their guardian angel and keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers. The students also love to hear some of the funny stories I share of when Don and I were kids. They all love him dearly now as well.
Thanks again to all and please continue to donate and share the cause in honor of Donald if you can!
Please feel free to message me with any questions!