Meet Margriet Sacranie-Simons

Co-authored by Nick Schonfeld.

Every vision needs a visionary. Someone who pushes harder and further, for longer. Someone who gives everything, day or night, and who is not afraid to take risks or bend the rules. These people are few and far between. Which is why, if you are lucky enough to meet someone like this, you will never forget them. 

Green Malata’s indefatigable visionary is Margriet Sacranie-Simons, a vigorous 72 year-old Dutch woman, who has lived in Malawi for more than 50 years. Margriet has been everything: airline representative, caterer, bookshop owner, mother-of-two and loving wife, consul general, fundraiser, you name it. 

Margriet inspects one of the fields which is farmed by Green Malata’s agricultural students. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
Margriet inspects one of the fields which is farmed by Green Malata’s agricultural students. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.

From her secluded hilltop home in Limbe, a short drive from the center of Blantyre, her energy and reputation radiate outwards. Everyone knows her name or her car. Several times, Nick and I witnessed people greeting Margriet or calling out “Book Lady!” or “Madame Sacranie”as we drove passed. Even the local street children seem to listen to her as she berates them for the dangerous act of begging in rush hour traffic. 

Although Margriet is not always at Green Malata, she is constantly on the phone with it’s local managers. Blantyre, Malawi, 2
Although Margriet is not always at Green Malata, she is constantly on the phone with it’s local managers. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.

To give you an idea of what an average day for Margriet looks like, Nick and I decided to join her: organizes gardener to fix collapsed ivy, has meeting about procuring tranquilizers, goes back home to pick up a flat car battery, drives to a gas supplier for new gas and fittings for a planned biogas facility, buys fabric for some of the entrepreneurs she supports, exchanges flat car battery for a new one, has quick stop at a hotel to book a room for a VIP coming to Blantyre, shopping trip, has meeting at plastic factory to discuss inlay for a planned fish pond and covers for biogas facility at Green Malata (during this meeting Margriet, distracted, mistakenly eats a handful of coffee beans out of a humidifier), arranges medicines for chronically ill friend of her son, drops off groceries at home, picks up plastics expert to show him Green Malata (an hours drive), oversees measuring of different plastics, drives all the way back to Blantyre to drop off the plastics expert, arrives home and cooks dinner. 

Margriet and her agricultural students give a tour of their fields to a visiting Zambian delegation. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
Margriet and her agricultural students give a tour of their fields to a visiting Zambian delegation. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
Margriet and I discuss where to take her portrait. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
Margriet and I discuss where to take her portrait. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.

As you can see, Margriet is a force to be reckoned with. Her boundless energy sucks in everyone around her, and before you know it, you find yourself lowering prices, opening doors, approving permits, and in Nick’s case, her official in-car note taker, as Margriet thinks out loud while racing from appointment to appointment.

Margriet and Davidson, one of Green Malata’s students review the day. Margriet is like a mother to her students and is deeply
Margriet and Davidson, one of Green Malata’s students review the day. Margriet is like a mother to her students and is deeply involved in both their education and personal lives. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
At the end of a long day, Margriet talks to Green Malata student Thomas, just before heading home. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.
At the end of a long day, Margriet talks to Green Malata student Thomas, just before heading home. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.

What makes Margriet so effective, is that in countries like Malawi, the things that often make life so difficult also allow her to operate more freely. Relationships trump regulations, and Margriet’s obvious devotion to the people she tries to help means that others are willing to help her back. 

Sustainable agriculture is one of Green Malata’s main focusses. Here, Margriet, unhappy with the condition of a particular pa
Sustainable agriculture is one of Green Malata’s main focusses. Here, Margriet, unhappy with the condition of a particular patch, waits for the responsible farmer to arrive. Blantyre, Malawi, 2016.

However, just like everyone else, visionaries get older and are eventually forced to slow down. Sadly, there is of yet no heir apparent, no-one who has Margriet’s unique skill set, experience and street savvy know how. Green Malata’s next visionary has yet to be found, and until then, the future of Margriet’s vision hangs in the balance.

To find out more about Green Malata and the amazing work it does, have a look at their website: www.childrensfundmalawi.com/green-malata-entrepreneurial-village-1

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