facebook icon

What is your life’s purpose?
My life purpose is to use my skills in order to help people move forward in a positive way.

How are you living your purpose?
I started a nonprofit, Direct Connections to Africa (DCTA), 10 years ago in Malawi, Africa, helping impoverished villages. In my field of professional counseling, we believe that relationships are 50-50 and that everyone needs to give back. I require this of the people I work with in Malawi. Everyone who benefits contributes by volunteering in some capacity.

DCTA helps poor rural people in Malawi with education and medical needs. Our education programs help train teachers, sponsor students for scholarships and college entrance, promote job placement, and foster recreation. When it comes to medical needs, we provide supplies, ambulance bikes, as well as wellness and eye clinics. It is very rewarding work, changing and saving lives.

Launching a nonprofit is something I would have never dreamed of doing. We’re into our 10th year with DCTA and I have loved the opportunity to share my purpose and change people’s lives for the better. Still, if 11 years ago you would have told me I would be running a nonprofit helping a village in Malawi, I would have told you that you were crazy!

How did you find your purpose?
When I was young, I didn’t really know what kind of work to get into and I realized there was a substantial need to help people find career direction. Through the various internships required to complete my Masters in Counseling, I saw that every area needed career counseling—from battered women, to companies with layoffs, to mothers wanting to leave marriages.

Being a career counselor is very rewarding. I love teaching people of all ages about searching for jobs, resume writing, networking, interviewing, and more. While I’ve seen many changes in our profession over the years, one thing has not changed: Losing a job or not finding a fulfilling career is very emotionally draining. When there’s a shooting incident in the workplace, the first question I ask myself is, “Did the shooter lose his job?”

When I hit my 50s, I still enjoyed my work but I started having this feeling that it was time to move on. My husband works in our judiciary and was invited to go to Malawi, Africa to give a conference to the Supreme Court Judges. We asked the same question you are probably asking now: “Where is Malawi?” The government invited me to come along and we both jumped at the chance. Africa was not a place my husband and I had ever thought of traveling to—there was so much on the news about disease and violence—but once the invitation came, we were ready.
We loved Malawi, which is called the “warm heart of Africa” for their wonderful people. The country is located on the East side of Africa, next to Zambia, a few hours’ flight north of Johannesburg. It features Lake Malawi, the 4th biggest lake in the world. USAID has rated it as the poorest country in Africa.

During my visit, I met a Malawi woman who was trying to start a preschool and I became captivated by her story. I had brought a duffle bag of school supplies for the village and, when I returned home, I kept in touch and sent her preschool supplies. We wrote back and forth and soon her preschool had 200 students.

When my friends wanted to get involved—they liked the idea of connecting directly with those in need and knowing exactly where their money was going—I started my nonprofit, Direct Connections to Africa. While the world of nonprofit was new to me, I was able to carry my career counseling skills into this new adventure. In third world countries, many people are not educated or do not know how to leverage their education. As we know, the job search is a full-time job in itself! It was so rewarding to use my skills with the villagers and watch so many of them move forward and change their lives for the better.

With my husband in Malawi

What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Keep your options open and consider areas that you have never thought of before. If your life is too well planned, you don’t open yourself up to possibilities. There are so many exciting and challenging opportunities for you to share your knowledge and do something fun. Meet different kinds of people and try different activities and classes.

Connect with Mary Ellen Carter
Email: carter.maryellen@gmail.com
Direct Connections to Africa