Forget the Vacay — This Couple Built a School in Africa for Their Honeymoon


The couple wrote their names on bricks for the school. (Photo: buildOn)

Can you really have enough china and monogrammed towels? One couple certainly thought so. They decided to forgo the traditional wedding registry in favor of doing some good in the world.

Taking their love of traveling and philanthropy to the next level, Mallory Foster and Zach Wendel asked their wedding guests for donations instead of gifts to help fund a school being built in Africa, where they planned to volunteer for their honeymoon.

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The couple, who met while working as engineers at ExxonMobil in Beaumont, Texas, in the summer of 2010, has a shared passion for travel and adventure. They’ve made sure to embrace new experiences throughout their relationship.

“All of our vacations have been outside our comfort zone,” Wendel said. “Travel has taught us to work together and to get through problems. The adventure has always been a part of our relationship and shaped who we are.” So, it just made sense for them that their engagement would take place in Ecuador and their wedding on a mountaintop in Estes Park, Colo., on Aug. 23, 2014.

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It was during the wedding-planning process that they began to think about the possibilities for a honeymoon destination. “As we discussed possible places we could go, we both realized we had put our love of volunteering on hold,” Foster said. “It had always been a dream of mine to build a school in a struggling area.” So, the engaged couple started to set money aside each month toward building a school in Malawi through an organization called buildOn.


Relaxing after a day of volunteering (Photo: buildOn)

Wendel added, “We then thought to include our family and friends on it by asking for donations in lieu of wedding gifts.”

Their decision was met with disbelief at first.

“We have stuff and didn’t need any more,” said Foster. “So we said we didn’t need gifts and if people still wanted to be generous, they could donate to our fund.”

The pair ended up raising over $28,000, which went toward creating a schoolhouse and a seventh-grade program, something that had never existed in the region before. “Right now, it only goes up to grade six, and our building will create grade seven,” Wendel said. “We’re truly able to give a gift of continuing education.”

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The couple’s fundraising was also a gift for them: their honeymoon. “We thought volunteering in Africa was a really great way to start a marriage,” Wendel said. “Your honeymoon is always going to be something to look back on, and I think it will serve as a reminder to us that this is something we should continually be doing and serve as a foundation for our future. It’s something we want to do moving forward for the rest of our lives.”

At the end of November, the couple headed to Malawi, where they saw their fundraising efforts firsthand. “It was exciting to be in a place where we’re out of our comfort zone because that’s where we like to be,” Wendel said.

While in Africa, the couple did take some downtime to celebrate their recent marriage by heading out on safari after spending time in the village.

“When you take a big trip with someone you love, it makes it all that much more memorable,” Foster said. “Our view for our wedding and our life is that life is a big adventure for us, and it’s been fun with each other.”

You can check out the couple’s buildOn fundraising page here.

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