Let’s face it. Most people who grow up in poverty want to get far away from it as quickly as they can. Not Everton Kamangire of Malawi. He grew up with a different aspiration: make a difference in the lives of those immersed in deep poverty.

Everton began by doing what he could, providing a blanket or meal here or there. He pursued a degree and was driven by mentors who challenged him to dig deeper. After graduating, Everton began teaching at a local school and then launched the Lizulu Orphan Care Project.

Lizulu is a rural Malawian community that is no stranger to HIV/AIDS or generational poverty. Consequently, it is no stranger to orphans. The average Lizulu family lives on less than $0.75 a day, making the ability to support orphans seem far from possible. Yet, about 3,000 orphans call Lizulu home. Many call Everton their role model.

The impact of Everton’s aspiration has been colossal. Nearly 500 children in Lizulu have completed secondary school, a feat that without the support of a family would typically be impossible for an orphan. His holistic approach, built on the concept of community-based care, allows children to live in the comfort of a real home with a real community – a built-in family - surrounding them. Five community centers in the village provide meals, and local leaders offer tutoring and counseling to ensure school is more than just going through the motions and life is more than just getting by. Blankets, clothing, medical services – all provided.

Everton has turned a community previously defined by poverty into a community defined by God. It’s an environment that doesn’t allow feelings of abandonment or worthlessness to stand a chance. It’s clear in the children’s excitement as they share their dreams – dreams very much alive despite tragic circumstances. Take for example Joy*. At 16, after losing both of her parents, Joy moved in with her grandmother. Two weeks later, she lost her grandmother. But Joy sits with confidence as she tells her story. Instead of speaking of sorrow, she speaks of her aspirations to become a midwife.

This is the story of a leader who matters in the hard places – a leader who dared to step into the stories of those around him and embrace them where they are. A leader who changed both the perception of the orphan and of the orphan’s community, enabling each to confidently see themselves the way God sees them. And every day, it grows a little more into the story of future leaders that matter in the hard places.

*Name changed for confidentiality.