08.26.16 / Category: Impact - School Build Projects

Malawi Trek – University of Tennessee

Her name is Rachel Durham but back in Malawi she is known as Chisomo, meaning Grace, which is the name Durham was given by the people in the village of Kwenda on her trek with Circle of Sisterhood.

After two-years of fundraising and a change in location, the Panhellenic Association at the University of Tennessee fulfilled its goal and embarked on a trek from May 15-23 to help break down barriers towards women’s education.


The initial plan was to go to Haiti, but because of political unrest the Panhellenic community found out two months before the trip that its participants would be going to Malawi instead, according to Durham who is Sigma Kappa’s chapter president.

“We were all shocked and nervous, but we all believed there was a reason and greater purpose for this change in travel plans,” says Durham.

To raise money for the trek, all 13 Panhellenic chapters had proceeds from the ticket sales for their annual “Greek Beat” dance competition go towards Circle of Sisterhood. The community also hosted a Circle of Sisterhood week before the event where donations were accepted. After two years of fundraising, a handful of women applied and Durham was selected as one of the 13 women to attend the trek.

“ I had never gone on a service trip before and I knew that this was going to be a perfect opportunity to travel and share the importance of women’s education and empowerment,” Durham says.

A typical day on the trek began with breakfast between 7-8 then participants went to break ground on the school and stayed on the site until noon. After lunch, the participants attended a cultural workshop.

“The cultural workshops included learning how to make bamboo mats, a women’s initiation (a look into what it is like being a woman in the Malawi culture), and then a lot of reflections on the trip and what we were learning,” says Durham.


After the workshops the ladies would return to their host families houses to eat dinner and play games with the kids until bedtime.

“To the people of Kwenda, family is everything,” Durham says. “Everyone within their community considers each other family and everyone looks out for the other.”

To Durham, the most memorable part of the trip was the closing ceremony at the school they had built.

“ In front of hundreds of people, a community member thanked us for our hard work and contributions to the school. He said that though we speak different languages and live in different regions of the world, we all live under the same sky, work for the same goals, and should love each regardless of circumstances. At that moment, I felt like a member of their families.”

“Overall, I can’t say enough wonderful things about the people of Malawi, Circle of Sisterhood, the BuildOn team, and the trip as a whole. I am thankful, humbled, and honored.”


This post was written by a member of our writing team, Jessica Evans, in collaboration with Rachel Durham. If you would like to share your Circle of Sisterhood story please contact Mia McCurdy at blog@circleofsisterhood.org.