An inspirational lady and the magic behind Sparkle Malawi; an orphanage that’s changing the lives of children in Africa.
19 October 2015| Last updated on 17 December 2017
The name comes from “the fact my Mum had six miscarriages between me and my two older brothers. I was a fertility treatment baby and when I was born they said I would like things that Sparkle. I knew I wanted to help and when I saw these children, I couldn't walk away. I knew I had to do something to help and Sparkle grew from there."
Born in Lytham, England, Sarah Brook is an expat woman from Dubai but now living in Zomba, Malawi. She loves meeting people from all walks of life and cultures. She believes Dubai is a wonderful place as there are thousands of nationalities here meaning you don't need to travel to learn about new cultures. She travelled to 29 countries in just 11 months between the ages of 18 and 19, so she is accustomed to living from a suitcase. Unplanned but due to her altruistic nature, she could not ignore the call of beautiful Malawi.
Like many of us, Sarah was attracted to Dubai by a tax free salary, but not so she could buy a nicer car or a house, it was so she could fund an orphanage in Malawi.
Along with a school friend, she had always wanted to travel to Africa. She was delighted when her friend had a family member they could go and stay with in Malawi. What she learnt while she was there was that, “it is tough. People earn less than a dollar a day. Rural areas people have long walks for water and there is no clean sanitation. Electricity is hit and miss and the variety of food is limited due to high prices. Transport is mainly on foot or by mini bus. 12-13% of the population has HIV and 1 in 14 children die before age 5 in Malawi.” During this trip Sarah nearly died in the country from a bowel complication age 18 from the local food and water and the people and the country saved her life.
It was at that point Sarah realised that Malawi had many problems that were preventing people who are in need of help. Malawi appears to have had a string of bad luck with a number of reasons and living conditions are below human standards. She knew that she had to give something back to the community.
“Malawi is landlocked and therefore importing and exporting items is a challenge. Tobacco and tea are the main things they produce. It is officially the world’s poorest country on GDP as of 2015. There was many problems with cash gate in the last couple of years, corruption from the government meant millions of aid was withdrawn from the country, meaning those who needed it most, ended up suffering. Huge floods also hit the country in February this year, causing 170,000 homes to be displaced. Crops were wiped out and now it is expected 2.8 million people will suffer from starvation in the next year.'
Life in different parts of the world can have huge gaps in living standards, though Sophie teaches us that “Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa. They are always smiling. People say once you come to Malawi you fall in love and I couldn't agree more. They are traditional in terms of living and family is their number one priority.”
The running of Sparkle Malawi has not come without its challenges. Sarah's impressive determination and passion for making a difference in the world prevails as she has to deal with a lot of obstacles that would deter anyone: “Corruption is a big challenge. Who to trust is massive in Malawi. I am very fortunate to have a great team on the ground who has volunteered for several years. I know they are not in it for the money but for the love of the children. Funding Sparkle was fine when I was in a full time job, now that I have no salary I am relying on other people. It is a lot of pressure on my shoulders because I know mouths won't be fed if I don't get it to them. Having 150 children who call you Mum is quite daunting but I would not have it any other way.”
It is clear all her hard work is worthwhile as she tells us an anecdote: “I put the children in a paddling pool the other day which I brought from the UK. Never in my life have I seen such an amazing scene. The smiles were just unimaginable. "
Her passion for her cause shines through brightly. Though after living in Dubai for over two years, was there anything she missed about life in the vibrant city? Her response could be a lesson to us all next time we might want to have a ‘Dubai moan’:
“I am now living knee deep in a Malawian village. I have had to walk an hour and a half to get this email and write back to you. WiFi is such an amazing thing. Showers are also great. Going to sleep sweaty and dirty isn't always ideal but I am getting used to it. Dubai is so clean and everything is reachable. I have never walked so much in my life! You can order anything you want and get it within an hour. People think DEWA takes time in Dubai, I just applied for electricity and they said if I am lucky I may get it in two months. Can you imagine?”
Sarah's mission is clear, she is determined to achieve her dream. “I know where I want The Sparkle Foundation to be and I won't give up until I reach it. I am no different to a lot of people out there in the world who want to help and if I can bring those people together, I know we can make a positive change on the lives of those in need together. People often tell me I should sit back and be happy with what I have done. The day I do that is the day I stop pushing myself to be a better person. No one is perfect so this is something I probably will never achieved but there are lives to be saved and I know this is my purpose in life now. I have a team of people now volunteering in the UAE. We have since formed The Sparkle Foundation an umbrella over Sparkle Malawi to hopefully create similar projects around the world in the near future. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the volunteers in the UAE."
She is a reminder to us all that we can all make a difference even in a small way will always help.
If you wish to get involved with Sparkle Malawi then there are several ways you can help. Sarah needs advice, experience, contacts, and volunteers.
“I only have one brain on my shoulders and 25 years’ experience. There are so many people out there who have small bits of real life experience and ideas that can help the foundation grow. A simple share on Facebook of our page raises awareness to even more people- that could save lives."