As the Community Development Market Leader, Dionna Sargent leads Cinnaire’s Priority City Initiative in Wilmington, DE, focusing on identifying resources and opportunities to further comprehensive community development objectives in the city. She recently traveled to Malawi, Africa, to volunteer to build homes for people in need with Habitat for Humanity. Dionna’s service work is driven by her Why – her belief that all communities should have access to the resources they need, and people should live in an environment where there is hope, opportunities and advantages. 

Words cannot express my gratitude for the opportunity to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Malawi.  I am beyond grateful for the time spent in this beautiful country working alongside hardworking, dedicated Malawians and my teammates to build safe and sustainable housing because we believe that “everyone needs a decent place to call home”.

In one week, we built two homes for two loving families, visited an orphanage and donated educational materials, learned about some of the challenges and opportunities faced in Mulanje villages, created memories that will last a lifetime and hopefully developed some lasting friendships.

What I learned most is that although there may be differences in how we live and where we live, there are similarities in fundamental principles that unite us such as the importance of community and basic human rights, e.g. housing, education, clean water, and food security. What I will remember most are the beautiful faces I got to see every day on the build site, the kind hearts and warm smiles, the singing and dancing, deep and candid conversations about how we can work consciously to address similar issues impacting vulnerable populations in America, and the camaraderie established with some of my team members. What I will cherish most is the enlightening experience, insight and lessons learned.

Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” – Paulo Coehlo

About a week before leaving for my trip, someone said to me that doing service work is a privilege. I had never thought about it that way before but as I reflected more on that statement, I realized that it is a privilege, and the return, when exercised with heartfelt compassion is a blessing beyond measure.

While on the continent of Africa, I decided to spend some time in Cape Town, South Africa.  Working in the housing and     community development space, I could not help but to be captivated by the practices of the past and its effects on the present in this city. Cape Town, once governed under the apartheid system which spanned from the 1940s – 1990s, is now one of the biggest international tourist attractions, however, many of the communities are still racially segregated.  A charming city with an intriguing history.

Memorable moments in Cape Town:

  • Touring the District Six museum and learning about the day when residents were forcibly removed from their home, most leaving with just a suitcase
  • Seeing the emotion in the eyes of my tour guide as I asked him about his experience as a District Six resident who was forced to leave his community
  • Discussing African and African American culture in a local barbershop
  • A home cooked dinner and conversation at the home of local jazz musicians
  • Visiting the local townships of Langa and Khayelitsha

This was certainly no vacation but indeed an educational and cultural enriching experience. I count myself blessed to have the time and opportunity to travel abroad, engage in community service, and learn about different culture, reinforcing the notion that what connects us is greater than what divides us.

Dionna’s Profile