By: Erik Pedersen, Senior Communications Manager
BALTIMORE – Shannon (Berry) Bachmann ’13 has always had a passion for service. Her volunteer work dates back to middle school, and attending Notre Dame of Maryland University on a service scholarship gave her additional opportunities to give back to surrounding areas. Getting married and moving to Switzerland in 2017 initiated the next step in Bachmann’s commitment, as she now serves as a board member for Extending Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing long-term, sustainable growth opportunities to communities in Malawi.
Extending Hope was originally formed by Decent Levson and his wife, Nadja, in 2011. Decent grew up in Agabu, which is centrally located in the southeast African nation, and he was driven to help bring positive change to his home country, which was 169th out of 191 countries in the latest Human Development Index rankings.
Since Bachmann joined Extending Hope five years ago, she has contributed to the creation and significant expansion of a primary school in Blantyre (the second largest city in Malawi), helped develop a variety of workshops for local residents to increase their potential for career growth, and organized mission trips for students and professionals to travel to Malawi and provide on-the-ground assistance.
Read below to learn more about Extending Hope’s history and current initiatives, and how Bachmann’s time at Notre Dame helped develop her passion for service.
What have you been up to in the years since you graduated from Notre Dame? What is your current professional role?
After Notre Dame, I worked in the Youth Development department for the Y in Central Maryland, and I stayed there until 2017, when I moved to Switzerland to get married to my husband. I spent a year adjusting to my new environment – I learned German during that first year – and then I started working for the International School of Zug and Luzern. We serve a lot of different communities throughout Switzerland. Our population is about 1,200 students and we have a staff of about 400. I have changed my role a couple of times here at the school, but I’ve been in my current role assisting the deputy director and director of technology for two and a half years.
When did you first begin to get involved in service initiatives, and what was it that inspired you to give back?
I’ve been interested in service since middle school. Attending Notre Dame and seeing how much service was valued there helped me pursue it even more. As a member of the swim team, the Athletics Department sponsored me for summer work experience trips volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Wilmington, Delaware. After graduation, as an assistant for the swim team, I organized our service activities, including a partnership where we volunteered with Blue Water Baltimore.
I think throughout my whole career at Notre Dame, I felt the passion and ability to develop my service work further. Especially after the summer trips to Wilmington, I knew service was always going to be a big part of my life.
When did you join Extending Hope? What are some of the organization’s main priorities, and what kind of assistance do you provide?
I joined Extending Hope as a board member in 2017. It’s a grassroots nonprofit organization here in Switzerland. It started with two founders – Nadja and Decent Levson – and they have been able to grow Extending Hope enormously on the ground in Malawi over the last 11 years. Our work is focused in Agabu, which is a bush area about two and a half hours outside of Blantyre, and then a small neighborhood in Blantyre where we have a primary school. I do focus work here in Switzerland, raising awareness about our projects, creating newsletters, and serving as administer for our social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
What are some of Extending Hope’s top accomplishments during your five years with the organization?
There have been so many. Sometimes it feels like we have a lot of roadblocks to deal with, but when you look at what has been accomplished on the ground, it’s amazing. Since I’ve been a part of Extending Hope, we have opened a new primary school and seen enrollment grow from 20 to 250 students. We were able to complete construction of two new school buildings in Blantyre.
We started out in a house, which was supposed to be the Levson’s residence when they moved to Malawi. They gave up their home and started the elementary and nursery program within the house. It grew from there, and we opened the first new building with classrooms for grades one through three. As the school continued to grow we have been able to expand the grade levels, and just last year we completed our second building.
Another milestone was to start the planning and setup of a wood and metal workshop for future vocational training in carpentry and metal work. That’s something my husband and I personally invested in with the purchase of land and equipment. We saw that as an opportunity to allow local people in Malawi to enhance their skills and give them the tools needed to make their own businesses sustainable.
How does Extending Hope set these projects up for long-term success?
The idea behind these projects is that all of them will be sustainable on their own without the need for additional funding from donors. Our schools in Agabu and Blantyre do not receive additional funding. They can now run solely on tuition fees, which are affordable and targeted to the lower middle class. At the same time, Extending Hope offers teacher training and programs to various schools to strengthen the local teaching methods.
The only time that we ask supporters to donate additional money to those projects is for expansion and infrastructure. Whenever there is a need for additional buildings, or additional desks for new schoolrooms, there could be a need for more funding. But once the project is complete and established, it is designed to be sustainable on its own. That’s the whole goal of Extending Hope.
I think that’s one of the top things to be proud of is that we’re able to implement something that fits the community. It’s affordable for the community, and they’re able to run it on their own. We use all local team members. We’re not bringing in people from around the world to staff these positions, we train the staff to be able to take this on for themselves and create their own careers.
What are some other current initiatives supported by the organization? How can interested individuals help support Extending Hope?
We are currently partnering with a sister company called Zäme Unterwägs, which in German basically means “Together We Go.” It’s a company that helps bring Swiss youth to Malawi so that they can be exposed to another culture and another way of life, and help bring about positive change both for themselves and the communities they work with.
One of the things that I really advocate for is creating additional opportunities for others to visit Malawi. In addition to our work with Zäme Unterwägs, we also do our own mission trips from Switzerland. We train individual members and small group teams to go from a range of two weeks to a year. An example of that is we had a group of nurses here in Switzerland. They visited our clinic in Agabu and realized that one of the issues that people were facing was a lack of healthcare accessibility, so they started a project to provide an ambulance for the area. The ambulance goes out and teaches the community on general healthcare hygiene, and it is also available to transport people from our clinic to larger medical facilities for surgeries or more extensive healthcare needs that we can’t provide at our clinic.
If any members of the Notre Dame community are interested in learning more about the trips that we offer to Malawi, they can contact me at my Extending Hope email. I’m more than happy to set up a Zoom call where they can learn more about all of the projects that we are currently working on.
Established in 1895, Notre Dame of Maryland University (NDMU) is a private, Catholic institution in Baltimore, Maryland, with the mission to educate leaders to transform the world. Notre Dame has been named one of the best "Regional Universities North" by U.S. News & World Report.