PRIDE WEEKEND EVENT BENEFITS MALAWI CHILDREN + IMPACT FROM 2014 EVENT
Over the past two decades, Gay Pride Weekend in Asbury Park has evolved into a celebration of life and acceptance for everyone, from everywhere. This year’s festivities – the weekend of June 5 – will continue that momentum.
For the second year, Asbury Park residents Jon Biondo, Ryan Coutu and Timothy Horman will use the crowded weekend as an opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of children in the southeast African country of Malawi. The three founders of the charity Youth of Malawi are opening the doors to their spectacular home to host a daytime benefit and celebration of life.
The proceeds from last year’s benefit “The Art Party” – featuring the art of Julio C.R. – raised $10,000 to help complete the construction of a school in a small Malawian village for 200 students.
I spoke with Biondo about his mission and the upcoming benefit.
TBP: You dedicate your time and energy to helping a village 99.9 percent of the people in the world will never see in person. I love and admire that. I’m curious, what do Malawians – so isolated from the iPhone world we know – think of Americans?
Biondo: We are drawn to this cause simply because friends of ours in Africa have asked us to help. We started the charity seven years ago. It is true there are thousands of charities and certainly we don’t have to look 7000 miles away to see people in need. We believe the most urgent need is in Africa – where so few resources go. I have seen the life-changing impact a few people can make with very little money.
Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa” because the citizens are some of the kindest and most welcoming people on earth. The people of Malawi love Americans. Very few there speak English – we communicate with gestures and hugs – but it is quite obvious that we are always welcome there.
Most have never left their village, so they don’t really have many questions about American life. Malawians live on less than $1 per day and food insecurity is a constant problem. This past winter, there were severe floods throughout Malawi – so many perished and the planting and growing season were negatively impacted.
TBP: The supporters of your benefit last year made a big impact.
Biondo: October of 2014 we traveled to Malawi and completed the construction of a school for 200 students at a cost of $160,000. The supporters from our Asbury Park benefit last year helped us make it happen.
While primary education is free in Malawi there are not enough facilities, teachers, books, or other materials to have productive lessons. Many children walk several miles per day to school back and forth, often over dangerous terrain, many with no shoes. They love school and are so grateful to have a place to learn, but absenteeism is high because of the journey. Because of the struggle to have enough food, many children are forced to stay home and work on the family farm. It is heartbreaking.
Our charity, Youth of Malawi was asked to build a school in a very remote village. We employed a South African architecture firm and employed 50 local laborers to help build a solar-powered, rainwater-harvesting, computer-filled learning center which doubles as a community meeting spot. It is the most modern architecture within 100 miles. Children now only have to walk a few hundred feet to school. They have uniforms which we manufactured, and two professional teachers, along with books, laptops, and a courtyard movie theatre to watch educational films.
TBP: Your upcoming benefit – at your spectacularly renovated home on 7th Avenue – will help raise funds for your Phase 2 plans for the children there.
Biondo: We are returning in October 2016 to build an additional classroom, a chicken farm to provide food and income for the school and its children, and a playground.
Our Malawi Wowie party will be an African cultural experience right here in Asbury Park. We will have a 10 person African band and dance troupe performing, surprise guests and lots of South African wine. There will be a door prize as well as silent auctions and raffles for an iPad, a new bike, a tour and lunch at Facebook’s New York offices and a Taka gift certificate.
This event is meant to expose more friends and neighbors to the African experience. Our goal is to offer a fun time while helping to change lives.