Interview with Sara Makwakwa: Part 1

Hands U.S. recently interviewed long-term volunteer Sara (Waldvogel) Makwakwa from New York, now living in South Africa full time. Sara reflects on her calling to serve the vulnerable, her decision to join the volunteer intake and ultimately commit to serve in Africa full time. If you think you may be interested in joining a volunteer intake with Hands at Work in Africa, please email or visit


What was your childhood like?

I grew up in a Christian family. My dad was a pastor and my mom was a teacher. I lived in a home that was owned by the church where my dad pastored. Church volunteers lived there, and missionaries often stayed with us when they were visiting the US.

When and how did you know that you were called to serve the vulnerable?

I was in church on a Friday night when a visiting missionary came. Ed spoke about the love that Jesus had for the most vulnerable. Of course it was not new to me, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me that night. He shared about people he knew who were loving the vulnerable the same way that Jesus did. He shared stories of people caring for patients and children in Masoyi, South Africa. I listened closely and the Holy Spirit stirred something in my heart. I prayed. The next day I asked Ed more about these people and if I could join them. He told me about Hands at Work in Africa.

How did you decide to leave home and serve the vulnerable in Africa?

I am not really sure what actually made me make the jump to apply, purchase my ticket and go. I always liked home and never wanted to go far from home. Anyone who knew me would not have thought I would move to South Africa. But since that Friday night, God continued working in me and I knew I had to go. I went for three months at the end of 2011.

What made you come back and volunteer with Hands U.S.?

When I was in Africa in 2011, I loved it. I prayed about staying long-term. As I prayed, God made it clear to me that there are vulnerable people even in my backyard and He wanted me to return to the U.S. and find them there. I was convicted about the fact that I had spent so many years in New York and not served the vulnerable population there. Being in South Africa and Zambia opened my eyes to that. So often we can walk past people and not even notice them.  When we do notice them, we often judge them. I returned to the U.S. and by God’s grace, tried to live with the values I had learned with Hands. Being in Africa totally changed me. I wanted to stay connected and thank the people who had invested in me those 3 months. That’s why I gave back by advocating, bringing teams and also volunteering with Hands U.S. starting in 2013.

How did you decide to commit to volunteering full time in Africa?

Every year after 2011, I spent approximately one month per year visiting Hands. I felt like I understood Hands and had put one foot in but hadn’t really jumped in. When I came with a team in 2016 for 3 weeks, I realized I wanted to “give it my all” instead of just a little. However, I didn’t know when I applied that I would stay more than a year.

When did you start volunteering with Hands Africa?

I joined the February 2017 intake with 6 others. We had an amazing 6-week orientation where God did something special in each of us. We grew in God together, so the fact that we experienced those 6 weeks together made our relationships really special.

What is your role?

After orientation, we found opportunity to serve where the need was greatest. I hesitate to talk about my role because I don’t want it to sound like a job description. Simply put, I support both the Dedza, Malawi and the Hazyview, South Africa local offices. Some of the administrative tasks that I have include writing reports, creating budgets, and helping with bookkeeping. Performing these tasks ensure that the teams on the ground in Malawi and South Africa can continue going out each day to serve the most vulnerable. However, describing my role in terms of my administrative tasks diminishes what God is doing in me. I am so blessed that I get to go into the community with our local volunteers. The way they serve in their own communities is so exemplary. I learn from them every single time I am with them. I usually get to go to one of our communities once a week with someone from the Hazyview local office. Once a month, I travel to Oshoek and stay for a week, spending time with the local office and care workers there. I also travel to Malawi whenever possible. In fact, I just returned from spending just over 2 weeks with our team there. When I am in the community, I visit our children and their caregivers in their homes, I participate in relationship groups, and spend time with the children.