Empowering girls through holistic and trauma-informed programs that equip them with the skills and tools they need to create lasting, positive change in their lives.
A Malawi where every girl is adequately empowered to transform her life and community.
Voices Awake: Girls Equipped for Change was founded in 2013 by Vanessa Mwangala. Vanessa was inspired to name her girls empowerment program this because she believes that Malawian girls have voices that have been silenced due to the country’s traditionally patriarchal culture. Malawian girls face numerous challenges like early marriages, child prostitution, overcrowded schools, and HIV/AIDS.
To Vanessa, awakening the voices is reviving the potential that is in these girls to act and transform their lives and communities.
Voices Awake began as a way to combat these obstacles and provide girls with a different vision of their futures. Vanessa had experienced personally the effects of Malawian traditions on girls and women, and she wanted to promote positive values, raise awareness about abuse, educate girls, and develop their leadership skills.
The project continued and she decided to turn Voices Awake into a trauma-informed organization that does more than just mentor - but provide holistic care, safety, and support by sheltering abused and abandoned girls.
In June 2019, Vanessa and her girls moved into the beautiful home in Salima built for Voices Awake.
Meet Our Founder - Vanessa!
Vanessa grew up just like the girls she serves: facing the strains of poverty, illiteracy, and the pressures of being a girl in Malawi. At just 16, she decided that it was time to change the narrative. Vanessa volunteered in rural Malawi and began to teach. She quickly saw how she could make a tremendous impact on the future of those she served. Vanessa witnessed the resilience that blossomed when she gave a girl encouragement and a safe space to focus on her studies - and so Voices Awake: Girls Equipped for Change was born. She completed her Bachelor’s degree at African Bible College and in 2018, Vanessa earned her Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Eastern University and thereafter proceeded to formally launch Voices Awake in Salima.
Through education and opportunity, she teaches girls that there are alternative paths out of poverty other than child marriage, prostitution, or a life of menial servitude. She teaches them that every girl has the power within herself to create the change she desires - she just needs someone to walk with her and believe in her as she navigates her path to success.
”Every girl has the power within herself to create the change she desires”
meet the girls of voices awake
Our girls are resilient, capable, and strong. Read about a few of them here.
Beatrice's competitive spirit pushed her to excel, though she was often faced with unfairly low expectations due to her gender. She worked hard to be a role model, and show parents that paying for their daughters' education is worth it. In secondary school, she excelled in her school’s quiz team, and gained confidence in her intelligence and worth despite not being supported by her family. Beatrice is unstoppable. She now attends the Malawi College of Health Sciences, with the hope that she will help lower the high maternal mortality rate in Malawi. When she got to know Vanessa and Voices Awake, she knew immediately she wanted to be involved. She has been supporting the program since 2015 as a volunteer, intern, and teacher.
"I wanted to be able to share my story and inspire girls to work hard and overcome anything the same way I did."
Ethel grew up in extreme poverty, and her family used to move often for her parents to find work. When she was in grade eight, her father joined a church with oppressive beliefs that he forced on his family - the belief that women were meant only to be wives and mothers, and should not be educated. Determined, Ethel defied her father and continued going to school, despite the unthinkable abuse she received as punishment. While Ethel was taking her exams, she met Vanessa, who encouraged her to pursue her education. When the abuse worsened at home, Ethel began to live with Vanessa, who provided a safe and accepting home. Ethel has continued to stay involved with Voices Awake, and eventually her father changed his ways and accepted his daughter’s path. She is now in Grade 12 and dreams of being an accountant and starting her own girls’ empowerment program.
"It is encouraging to know you are not alone in your struggle, so I want to share this with other girls. I am working hard to make my dreams come true."
Sarah’s family struggled with poverty, especially after the death of her father in 2010. She would sometimes take odd jobs for meager pay, called piecework, to help her buy school supplies and support her family. But often, it wasn’t enough. She was turned away from school more than once because she lacked the right uniform or shoes. Before she turned 16, Sarah gave up on her education and got married. Not long after, she met Vanessa, who sheltered her and encouraged her return to school. Sarah was able to manage the judgment from her peers with Vanessa’s shelter, and now she is sponsored to attend a secondary school in her district. Sarah dreams of being a nurse and supporting girls with stories similar to her own.
“I want to be successful to help other girls succeed too. We live to help each other.”
From grade three to grade eight, Margaret was always the first in her class. When her parents divorced, she had to work even harder. She was one of 10 girls out of 100 classmates to be chosen to attend the best secondary school in her district, where she studies very diligently despite only being able to afford one of the ten books she needs for her courses. She joined Voices Awake in grade seven, and found a role model in Vanessa. She felt particularly inspired by the speakers who visited the mentorship program, and one in particular who had a story similar to Margaret’s. Even though she’s treated differently because she’s a girl, with her classmates’ and family’s support, she works very hard to strive toward her goal of being a nurse.
"I told myself I will not pity myself anymore, but I will rise."
The Board of Voices Awake
Eddie Mombera (Board President)
Electrical Engineer and Director, Taurus Technologies
Cynthia Kazembe (Board Vice President)
Research Analyst, IFPRI
McDonald Taju (Board Treasurer)
Program Accountant, AMREF Health Africa
Vanessa Mwangala (Board Secretary)
Founder and Executive Director, Voices Awake Girls
CEO of Uthunthu and Author
Co-Founder and Director, Cornerstone Ministries
Part of the UrbanPromise International Family
Voices Awake is an affiliate ministry of UrbanPromise International, whose mission is to prepare emerging leaders to initiate, develop, and sustain Christian-based youth development organizations and to seed their new ministries as they serve vulnerable children and teens in our world's most under-resourced communities.